British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has built much of his political career on his indomitable ability to break out of almost any scandal and emerge spotless. But the Teflon-like quality seems to be thinning, with Mr Johnson now facing growing calls to resign over allegations that he and his staff repeatedly held a series of parties at the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office. The bar violated the COVID-19 restrictions.
The scandal has been brewing for weeks amid persistent revelations about various social gatherings in Downing Street in 2020, when the country was in almost total lockdown. Last month, Allegra Stratton, one of Mr Johnson’s senior advisers, resigned after a video surfaced of him joking about a party. Other photos have emerged showing Mr Johnson taking part in a Christmas quiz in 2020 and joining several colleagues in a courtyard for wine and cheese that spring.
It all escalated on Monday when an e-mail surfaced from Mr Johnson’s personal secretary inviting more than 100 employees to a “bring your own wine” party in Downing Street on May 20, 2020. At the time, COVID-19 regulations banned social gatherings. and restricted people to meeting only one person outside the second home. Around 30 people are believed to have attended the party, including the prime minister and his wife.
Mr Johnson tried to quell the controversy by insisting that no rules had been broken and by appointing a top civil servant, Sue Grey, to investigate the allegations. But after avoiding questions about the May 20 gathering, Mr Johnson offered a lengthy apology in a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“I want to apologise,” he told lawmakers. After acknowledging the many sacrifices people have made during the pandemic, he said: “I know how angry they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street that the rules are okay. Not being followed by what people make. Rule. ,
He confirmed that he attended the party for 25 minutes to thank the staff, but said he believed it was a work event, which would have been allowed under the rules at the time. “I should have sent everyone back in from behind,” he said. “I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognized that – even if it could technically be said to come under guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who wouldn’t see it that way. “
He added that, although Ms Gray’s interrogation was ongoing, “I have learned enough to know that there were things we did not feel right and that I should take responsibility.”
His comments did nothing to call for him to resign or to ease the unease among some Tory lawmakers.
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party, said: “Mister Johnson’s defense that he didn’t know he was at a party is so ridiculous it is actually offensive to the British public.” “Eventually he was forced to accept what everyone knew: that when the whole country was locked down, he was hosting booze parties in Downing Street. Would he be doing a good job now? And will you resign?
Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale described Mr Johnson as a “walking dead man”.
“Unfortunately what the prime minister said today leaves people like me in an impossible position,” he told BBC radio. “Now we know that the Prime Minister spent 25 minutes on what was clearly a party. That means he misled the House.”
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, said Mr Johnson had to resign. “I said [Tuesday] If the Prime Minister attends this gathering, party, event in Downing Street on 20 May, he cannot continue as Prime Minister. So with regret I have to say that his position is no longer valid.”
Mr Ross told Sky News on Wednesday. “I spoke to the PM this afternoon and I explained my reasons and I explained my position to him.”
But other conservatives welcomed Mr Johnson’s apology and said he was unlikely to be singled out. Tory MP Christopher Chop said: “I think when someone apologizes like this, the right people accept the apology.”
Health experts said the controversy had undermined public confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic and could undermine efforts to tighten restrictions. Like most countries, the UK has seen a huge increase in infections due to the Omicron variant, and a rapid increase in hospital admissions. So far the government has maintained fairly limited restrictions on social movements, and the number of daily cases has begun to decline. But experts warn that this may change and stricter measures may be necessary.
Simon Williams, a senior lecturer in people and organization at Swansea University, said: “The negative impact on public confidence in government cannot be overstated by controversies such as the current alleged Downing Street Garden Party.” “Research has shown that trust is one of the most important predictors of whether people follow COVID regulations and guidance.”
Conservative lawmakers have shown little reluctance in the past to oust their leaders. Under party rules, a group with just 15 percent of Tory MPs – in the current house, which would be 54 – could request a vote of confidence in the leader. If that vote was triggered and Mr Johnson failed to garner 50-percent support among all Conservative lawmakers, he would have to step down.
But even winning a vote of confidence is not always enough. In 2019, Theresa May was forced out by backbenchers, even though she won a trust vote seven months earlier.
It is unclear whether Mr Johnson will face that kind of revolt or whether the public as a whole remains attached to the scandal. Recent opinion polls have given the Labor Party an edge over the Conservatives, but the Tories recently closed the five-point gap. And the election is not going to happen till May, 2024.
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