UK Prime Minister fights for survival after lockdown party hangover

The apparent violation of COVID restrictions angered the public, who were forced to obey rules that prevented them from visiting sick and dying relatives or attending funerals.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to brief the nation on the COVID-19 booster vaccination program in Downing Street, central London, on December 12, 2021. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor / POOL / AFP

LONDON – Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting for his political future on Thursday as his Tories slipped into open internal warfare after belatedly apologizing for attending a party during a coronavirus lockdown.

The apparent violation of COVID restrictions angered the public, who were forced to obey rules that prevented them from visiting sick and dying relatives or attending funerals.

Most cabinet members rallied around Johnson after his mea culpa, but support from some like Rishi Sunak, his powerful finance minister and potential successor, was noticeably lukewarm.

The Prime Minister himself went to the ground on Thursday, canceling a planned trip to northern England after a family member fell with COVID-19, in strict compliance with his government’s rules.

And the scandal looked set to worsen on Friday as the conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph published an exclusive claiming Johnson staff had a loud party just hours before Prince Philip’s socially distant funeral.

Queen Elizabeth sitting alone in church due to COVID regulations has provided one of the most striking images of Britain under lockdown.

While expressing a “heartfelt apology,” Johnson this week sparked ridicule by saying he thought the May 2020 rally was a professional event.

He urged all parties to await the findings of an internal investigation.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, joined at least four Tory backbench MPs in calling on Johnson to step down after the PM admitted to joining the party in his Downing Street garden in May 2020, when Britain was strictly closed.

“Unfortunately, I have to say his position is no longer tenable,” Ross told STV.

Cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed Ross as a ‘light’ Tory figure, prompting reprimands from other MPs and warnings that the upper crust Englishman supported the cause of independence for the United States. ‘Scotland.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted Johnson had been “very, very sincere” in his apology, amid warnings that Tory MPs could rally for a vote of no confidence.

“He recognizes the anger, upset and frustration people feel over what they perceive to have happened at number 10. He recognizes this and takes responsibility,” Lewis told BBC radio.


But Lewis was forced to downplay reports that Johnson had, following his apology in the House of Commons, told Ross and other Tories that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

Labor leader Keir Starmer joined other opposition leaders for the first time on Wednesday in demanding Johnson’s resignation.

The Prime Minister’s ratings have plummeted since “partygate” allegations relating to the events of 2020 emerged last month.

A new poll by YouGov in The Times newspaper gave Labor a 10-point lead over the Tories, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six in 10 voters believe Johnson should resign.

Senior Labor MP Lisa Nandy said the Prime Minister would be likely to face further revelations, after Johnson previously insisted in Parliament that no COVID rules were broken in 2020.


Relatives left in mourning by COVID and unable to say their final farewells felt “appalled, horrified and traumatized again” by Johnson’s presence at the party, Nandy said on ITV, urging police to investigate.

The London Metropolitan Police did not rule out a criminal investigation into the party, which took place at a time when Britons were banned from socializing outdoors.

But for now, Johnson’s fate appears to be in the hands of senior official Sue Gray, whom he commissioned to review the May 2020 event and other Downing Street rallies that year.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak, who was visibly absent from the House of Commons on Wednesday, said Johnson was right to apologize and called for “patience” while awaiting Gray’s report.

Another potential candidate to replace Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, also took hours to provide public support, but said she stood “100%” behind the Prime Minister.

Johnson’s official spokesperson insisted the cabinet was united in implementing the government’s post-Brexit and post-pandemic priorities.

“The Prime Minister respects the principles of public service,” he told reporters, noting Johnson had promised to release Gray’s report and then update Parliament.

The government suffered another blow on Thursday with news that its deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam – a gifted and colorful communicator during the pandemic – was leaving to return to academia.


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