January 25, 2022

UK: Boris Johnson: Senior Tories urge PM to quit after party apology

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From BBC

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the prime minister’s position was “no longer tenable”

Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior Tories to resign after he admitted attending a drinks party during lockdown.

The prime minister apologised for the way he handled the event in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 and said he understood the public’s “rage” over it. 

Cabinet members including deputy PM Dominic Raab rallied round Mr Johnson.

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and MPs William Wragg, Caroline Nokes and Roger urged him to go.

Mr Ross, an MP and a Member of the Scottish Parliament, said he had had a “difficult conversation” with Mr Johnson after he apologised on Wednesday in the House of Commons.

He said he would write to the 1922 Committee, which organises Conservative leadership contests, to register his lack of confidence in the prime minister.

“He is the prime minister. It is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions,” Mr Ross said.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said those calling for Mr Johnson were “people who are always unhappy” and dismissed Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross as “quite a lightweight figure”.

Conservative MP Andrew Percy criticised Mr Rees-Mogg, saying: “As someone who apparently loves the Union, his personal attack on Douglas… is a gift to the petty nationalists in the SNP who want to break this country up.” 

A minimum of 54 Conservative MPs must send letters to the committee in order to trigger a leadership challenge.

The drinks gathering, held on 20 May 2020 and described in the invitation as “socially distanced”, was attended by around 30 people, who were invited to bring their own alcohol. Food, including sausage rolls and crisps, was reportedly laid out on trestle tables,

Mr Johnson admitted at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that he had joined colleagues at the event for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” for their hard work during the pandemic, but had “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

He added: “With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”

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But Mr Wragg, a backbench MP who chairs an influential select committee, called the prime minister’s position “untenable”.

“I don’t think it should be left to the findings of a civil servant to determine the future of the prime minister and indeed who governs this country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

And fellow Tory Caroline Nokes, who chairs another Commons committee, said the prime minister should resign now as he was “damaging the entire Conservative brand”.

The former minister, who has previously been critical of Mr Johnson’s leadership, told ITV’s Robert Peston: “Regretfully, he looks like a liability. And I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a general election.”

What next for Boris Johnson? 

Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

The prime minister’s admission and apology in the Commons likely bought him a little time.

A pause until the official inquiry into what parties did or didn’t take place in Downing Street is published, in perhaps a week or so.

But for many on his own side, Boris Johnson has already lost the benefit of the doubt.

Growing numbers of his own MPs want him out, discussing frantically how and when his exit could take place.

Read more from Laura

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson’s explanation for his attendance at the drinks gathering was “so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public” and he called on Mr Johnson “to do the decent thing and resign”.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford, called on Tory MPs to force the prime minister out.

And Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, who has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate Mr Johnson’s attendance at the drinks, said he had to go.

The prime minister’s statement was met with a mixed reaction from Conservative MPs, with Dan Poulter saying it was “not much consolation” for those who had worked on the frontline in the NHS. 

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors to Mr Johnson as leader – tweeted their support on Wednesday evening. 

Ms Truss said she stood behind the prime minister “100%”, while Mr Sunak said Mr Johnson had been “right to apologise”, adding that he supported the PM’s call for “patience” while Ms Gray completed her investigation.

A poll for The Times by YouGov, carried out before Mr Johnson’s apology at Prime Minister’s Questions, gave Labour at a 10-point lead over the Conservatives – the party’s biggest lead since December 2013.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns in 2020. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

10 May 2020

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps” out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to “obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

15 May 2020

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

20 May 2020

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality” in England by Christmas “through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

5 November 2020

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

13 November 2020

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

27 November 2020

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

2 December 2020

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

10 December 2020

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

14 December 2020

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party’s London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’
Image captionThe gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’IMAGE COPYRIGHT BYDAILY MIRROR

15 December 2020

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo – published by the Sunday Mirror – showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
Image captionMr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret ThatcherIMAGE COPYRIGHT BYSUNDAY MIRROR

16 December 2020

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate” and an “error of judgment” by staff.

18 December 2020

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

For more on this story and video go to: BBC

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