UPDATED: UK PM Johnson apologises for lockdown gathering as he faces crunch day in parliament

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LONDON, Jan 12 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised on Wednesday for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering at his official residence during the first coronavirus lockdown and said he understood the fury it had caused.

“I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” an ashen-faced Johnson told parliament.

Johnson, who won a landslide 2019 election victory on a promise to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union, said he regretted his action and had thought the gathering at Downing Street, on May 20, 2020, was a work event.

“I went into that garden just after six on the 20th of May 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working,” he said.

“With hindsight, I should have said everyone back inside.”

Opposition lawmakers had said Johnson should resign and some in his own Conservative Party have said he should quit if he was found to have broken strict laws his government brought in to prevent the spread of the virus.

Johnson, who swept to power in 2019 on a promise to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union, has so far refused to say whether he attended the gathering in Downing Street on May 20, 2020.

“His survival is in the balance at the moment,” said one senior Conservative lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“He has got to make a clean breast. I usually find that if you make your apologies, it defuses the issue. Can’t have it hanging on,” said the lawmaker.

The prime minister and his partner Carrie mingled with about 40 staff in the garden of Downing Street after his Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds sent an invitation by email using the pronoun “we”, ITV News reported.

Johnson’s spokesman has repeatedly refused to comment on the details of the report.

When Johnson fields questions in parliament on Wednesday at 1200 GMT, there is just one issue that lawmakers will want an answer to: was he at the drinks party or not?

Newspapers, including those which are usually very sympathetic to Johnson, warned that unless he resolved the issue, his position could become untenable.

On its front page, the Daily Mail posed the question many commentators were asking after the recent scandal: “Is the party over for PM?”

PHOTO – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

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