Anger has been steadily building following a slew of revelations about events allegedly held in Downing Street while the rest of the country was living under coronavirus restrictions.
The latest claims, that Boris Johnson briefly attended a “bring your own booze” bash in the garden of Number 10, even prompted an apology in the House of Commons at the latest edition on Prime Minister’s Questions.
But opposition chiefs are pushing for the Tory leader to step down, calling his actions a “slap in the face” for families who lost loved ones during the pandemic.
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“The Prime Minister has had ample opportunity to be straight with the British public,” said Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South and shadow education secretary.
“It is utterly ridiculous that he suggests he had no idea he was at a party.
“People suffered unimaginable loneliness, hurt and grief during the pandemic. Our key workers on the frontline went to extreme lengths to keep our country going.
“The Prime Minister’s partying is so hurtful to all of them - it is shameful to hide behind an internal probe, spokespeople or civil servants. It is time to really take responsibility.”
Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary, invited colleagues to “socially distanced drinks” on May 20, 2020, with an offer to “make the most of the lovely weather” and instructions to “bring your own booze”.
The Prime Minister told MPs he had attended the gathering for about 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” for their work during the pandemic and insisted he had thought it complied with the rules in place at the time.
He conceded he should have instead ordered the party be shut down and offered his “heartfelt apologies” to the public over the row.
An investigation into allegations of parties held at the heart of government during lockdowns, including a ‘cheese and wine garden party’ and Christmas quiz, is being carried out by top civil servant Sue Gray.
Labour leader Keir Starmer branded Johnson a “pathetic spectacle of a man”, calling his excuses “ridiculous”.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said Johnson had “apologised for how it looks, not what happened”.
She added: “The ludicrous response is a slap in the face for everyone who didn’t get top say goodbye and for the NHS staff who watched patients die alone - the Prime Minister must resign.”
Sunderland’s own Conservative chief, Antony Mullen, has been among Johnson’s critics.
While many Echo readers agreed, some had more sympathy, with one calling the row “political claptrap” and others urging the PM be allowed to “get on with the job”.
“Sorry is good but is not always good enough,” said Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central.
“The Prime Minister apologised, but did not accept that he attended an event that was completely against the COVID rules in place at the time.
“He has inflicted untold pain and suffering on so many people he needs to go and go now.”