The Prime Minister’s former director of communications has apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by a leaving party held in Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
James Slack, who last year left No 10 to become deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun, said the party on April 16 2021 “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
Mr Slack said in an emailed statement issued by The Sun’s publisher, News UK: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”
But he said he could not comment further as the issue has been referred to senior official Sue Gray as part of her investigation.
The party was held the night before the Queen attended her husband’s funeral wearing a face mask and socially distanced from her family at Windsor Castle, in line with Covid restrictions.
The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on April 16 2021.
They were to mark the departures of Mr Slack and one of the PM’s personal photographers, the newspaper said.
The two events are said to have started separately and later merged.
The Telegraph cited a No 10 spokesman as saying Boris Johnson was not in Downing Street that day. He is said to have been at Chequers.
Security minister Damian Hinds said he was “shocked” to hear about the most recent Downing Street party allegations.
He told Sky News that the time at which the events were reported to have taken place was a “particularly sombre” one for the country and the Queen.
“This will be part of the investigations taken on by Sue Gray and we must wait to see what comes through in that,” he said.
“If the details that are in the story turn out to be true then that would be … I mean, clearly people are going to form their judgment, but it will be part of these broader investigations being undertaken by Sue Gray.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown. Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others.
“Whilst she mourned, Number 10 partied. Johnson must go.”
His comments were echoed by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, who wrote on Twitter: “The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest.
“I have no words for the culture behaviours at Number 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”
Fran Hall, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “If your neighbours had behaved like this, you’d have been disgusted. For the people running the country to do it and then lie about it, shows a complete disdain for the general public.
“We shared the same pain of grieving in isolation as the Queen did. And she must be just as sickened as we are at hearing this. Sadly, instead of doing the decent thing and resigning, we can expect the Prime Minister to continue shamefully lying to our faces.
“The Conservative MPs that are keeping him in power disgrace their country.”
It comes after Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, announced on Thursday night that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
He is the fifth MP to say he has written to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, calling for a vote on the Mr Johnson’s future as head of the party.
The Telegraph reported that as many as 30 letters have been submitted so far, with a total of 54 needed to trigger a vote.
A Downing Street spokeman said of Mr Slack’s event: “On this individual’s last day, he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.”