British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting for his political future on Friday as outrage mounted after his belated apology for attending a party during the lockdown and a new report showed other noisy gatherings at his office.
Revelations that Johnson and Downing Street staff breached restrictions at the height of Britain’s coronavirus lockdown have enraged the public, who have been forced to abide by rules that prevented them from visiting loved ones sick and dying or attending funerals.
The scandal looked set to escalate on Friday as the conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph ran an exclusive claiming Johnson’s staff threw an alcohol-fueled party just hours before Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral in April 2021.
The image of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone in church during her late husband’s memorial service was one of the most striking images of Britain under lockdown.
Most cabinet members rallied behind Johnson after his mea culpa, but support from potential successors such as powerful finance minister Rishi Sunak has been markedly lukewarm.
While expressing a ‘sincere apology’, Johnson sparked ridicule this week by saying he believed a May 2020 rally in the Downing Street garden – at which more than 100 people gathered – was a work 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 backbenchers in calling on Johnson to resign after the Prime Minister admitted to joining the party.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that his position is no longer tenable,” Ross told STV.
Cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed Ross as a ‘light-hearted’ Tory figure, prompting rebukes from other MPs and warnings the upper-class Englishman was backing arguments for Scottish independence .
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.
“Party of the Party”
But Lewis was forced to play down reports that Johnson, following his apology in the House of Commons, told Ross and other Tories he did not believe he had done anything wrong.
On Wednesday, Labor leader Keir Starmer for the first time joined other opposition leaders in demanding Johnson’s resignation.
The Prime Minister’s ratings have plummeted since allegations of ‘participation’ emerged last month.
A new YouGov poll in The Times newspaper gave Labor a 10-point lead over the Conservatives, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six in 10 voters thought Johnson should quit.
London’s Metropolitan Police have not ruled out a criminal investigation into the May 2020 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 civil servant Sue Gray, whom he has tasked with investigating the May 2020 event and other Downing Street rallies that year.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak, who was conspicuously 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 issue public support but later said she stood “100 per cent” behind the prime minister.
Johnson’s official spokesman insisted the cabinet was united in delivering on the government’s post-Brexit and post-pandemic priorities.
“The Prime Minister respects the principles of public service,” he told reporters, pointing out that Johnson had promised to publish Gray’s report and then update Parliament.
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