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 16 April 2021 “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
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-19 restrictions.
But who is James Slack, and what is his history with Downing Street?
Here is everything you need to know about him.
The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work on 16 April 2021 for two separate events.
They were to mark the departures of 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 paper also reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine.
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.
But pressure is still mounting on Johnson amid the fresh allegations that Downing Street parties were held while coronavirus restrictions were in place.
At the time of the two newly-reported gatherings, Government guidance said: “You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”
It brings the total number of parties or gatherings alleged to have happened across Whitehall during restrictions to 14.
Who is James Slack?
Previously Home Affairs editor of the Daily Mail, he was appointed political editor of the newspaper in October 2015 in succession to James Chapman, who had been appointed as spokesman for George Osborne, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Slack wrote the Daily Mail’s controversial “Enemies of the People” front-page article which criticised judges in England’s High Court of Justice.
They had ruled that the UK Government would require the consent of Parliament to give notice of Brexit, a decision the paper did not agree with.
Slack left the Daily Mail to become the PM’s official spokesman in February 2017 as a member of the permanent civil service under then Prime Minister, Theresa May.
Well respected within the Westminster press hub, Slack succeeded Lee Cain as director of communications following his resignation amid a bitter row in Downing Street.
Cain had been offered the post of chief of staff, but backlash among the Prime Minister’s inner circle (Boris Johnson’s then fiancee, Carrie Symonds, reportedly strongly opposed to the appointment) ultimately led to his departure from No 10 rather than a promotion.
In March 2021, Slack left Downing Street to join The Sun as deputy editor.
What has he said?
Slack said the party “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
He 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.
A Downing Street spokesperson said of 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.”
What does it mean for Johnson?
The apology from the Prime Minister’s former director of communications has heaped further pressure on Boris Johnson, as more Tory MPs call on him to resign.
The Telegraph has reported that as many as 30 letters of no confidence in the PM have been submitted to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.
A total of 54 is needed to trigger a vote.
Confirming he had submitted a letter, Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said the gatherings were “wholly unacceptable”, and on Thursday (13 January), Andrew Bridgen became the fifth Tory MP to have publicly said they had written to committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.
Sir Roger praised Boris Johnson’s delivery of the vaccine rollout and Brexit, but added: “The problem is that the man’s judgement is flawed.”
He said: “I don’t think that the image of the Downing Street branch of the Majestic Wine Warehouse is doing us any good at all.”
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