British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for attending a party in the gardens of 10 Downing Street in London in May 2020. He then went on to say that he was unaware it was a party and simply thought the approximately 40 people were attending a work event.
There were 100 invites sent out, advising people to “bring a bottle.” The party was held while people across the country were prevented from seeing loved ones, as the UK was subject to stringent lockdown rules. And I, like many millions of British expats, was unable to return home to see my family and friends.
When the pandemic began, the world went into crisis mode, and England was no different. There were restrictions on movement within England, then a ban on staying in people’s homes — these two rules alone made any visit back to the UK tricky at best.
The elderly were told not to have visitors go into their homes, so for many expats staying with parents was out of the question.
Then the British government created its traffic light system and the UAE — my home for the past nearly 13 years — was placed on the so-called red list. This meant that if I, or any of my fellow compatriots, wanted to return to England, we would be required to quarantine for two weeks and pay nearly £2,000 ($2,700) for the experience.
This was despite the comparatively lower numbers of people in the UAE infected with the coronavirus and the UAE’s world-leading numbers of those vaccinated. But still the British government persisted, insisting that it was necessary to impose such strict restrictions on the UAE because it was a travel hub. Singapore and Hong Kong are also busy travel hubs and yet were not on the red list.
Then, in October last year, the UK government changed the rules and said people who were double vaccinated would be allowed into England without the need to quarantine. Suddenly, it seemed like we Brits were going home to see our loved ones — but, alas, the excitement was short-lived. The UAE was not included on the list — the British government was insisting that more was needed, as apparently the way the UAE registered people’s vaccinations was not sufficient.
So people traveling from countries that were handing out pieces of cardboard as proof of double vaccination were allowed into the UK without any problem. But the UAE, with its high-tech and super secure vaccine registration system, was still having to make amendments.
It seems that only once the UAE added people’s UK passport numbers and date of birth to the certificate of vaccination would the Johnson-led government finally agree to let people enter the country without having to quarantine.
Like the final sprint in a long-distance run, the finishing line was in sight and thousands of us were finally going to see our family and friends; and then along came omicron.
Once again, the British government stepped up and ordered that, on arrival, people would have to have a PCR test within the first two days and quarantine until a negative result was confirmed.
For many, the new surge was enough to push them to cancel their plans — thankfully, I was not one of them.
The past two years have been a struggle, not just for me, but for everyone. Many of us have suffered bereavements — and not just from COVID-19. I have watched as friends lost people close to them. Two people I knew died of cancer.
We have been isolated to an extent that has pushed our mental health to its limits. For some, the pressure has proved too much and has changed them beyond recognition. We have missed out on life experiences that will never be regained.
In these circumstances, we look for leadership and reassurance from our governments — the very people who set rules that prevented so many of us from seeing our friends and family.
It is difficult to know what the Downing Street garden party organizers were thinking when they sent out 100 invitations at a time when the British public was facing lockdowns and the threat of fines for those who failed to comply with the rules. Millions of us spent more time alone than most would ever deem reasonable.
Only time will tell what fate Johnson faces, but it is difficult to see how he can lead the country after this.
His immediate reaction was to deny there was a gathering or that he was at it. Even as he apologized, he still tried to claim he was unaware he was at a party. However, it is worth noting that people were consuming alcohol, something even the English tend not to do when at work.
It is difficult to see, when so many have made the sacrifices we have, how a “bring a bottle” party was ever seen as appropriate.
People are already calling for Johnson to resign — there are even members of his own party eager for him to step aside. According to reports in the British press, three high-ranking Conservative politicians have called for Johnson to quit. They are the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, Douglas Ross, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Baroness Davidson, and William Wragg MP, Tory chairman of the House of Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Johnson says he attended the “event” for just 25 minutes. He won the last general election in a landslide but could be escorted off the premises of No. 10 about two years before the next.