British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was grilled by in Parliament on Tuesday for the first time since police fined him over illegal bring the booze parties at 10 Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdowns, plus misleading Parliament.
Members of the House of Commons were on an 11-day Easter break last week when the prime minister was handed a fine for attending a birthday party that was in violation of lockdown rules. His chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak was also fined. There have been calls for both men to step down.
Johnson has defied the calls, some of which have come from his own Conservative Party, even after becoming the first modern UK leader to be charged for breaking the law. However he is now facing possible further fines for other lockdown parties, as well as the accusation that he misled the Parliament by insisting that he had broken no rules. This could amount to a breach of government ministers' code of conduct for which ministers are expected to step down.
Johnson insisted before Parliament he was not aware he was breaking the rules. I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House [of Commons]. As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister, Johnson told lawmakers.
It did not occur to me then, or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on COVID strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. I repeat that was my mistake, and I apologize for it, unreservedly, he said.
Johnson has previously survived the political storms created by the Partygate scandal. Despite holding a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, members of his own party started expressing particularly rebellious sentiments after the prime minister was accused of having been partying while millions were locked inside their homes.
Public anger put pressure on lawmakers, especially those in more marginal seats, to confront what many have seen as hypocrisy. Johnson already paid off his £50 (€60, US$ 65) fine, but London's Metropolitan police are still investigating dozens of other alleged lockdown breaches.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis have helped shift attention away from the Partygate scandal, and proposals to send migrants and asylum-seekers to Rwanda have been seen as a gesture to his pro-Brexit base of support.
Though attention may be focused elsewhere, anger toward the prime minister has not dissipated. Around two-thirds of respondents to a national survey spoke negatively of him.
Overall, 'Partygate' dominates views of Boris over Ukraine, said James Johnson, a Conservative pollster who conducted the survey. Fury has not receded. Many negative comments are by people who liked him previously but have now changed their minds.
The prime minister is hoping to ensure support from his party, but faces the possibility of being referred to a Parliament committee to probe whether he did indeed mislead the house.
Dominic Cumings, PM Johnson's former leading advisor and who instrumented the Brexit victory, has called his former boss a sociopathic narcissist over his handling of partygate.
Cummings also claimed that PM Johnson was deeply contemptible in allowing the reputations of junior civil servants to be tarnished over the ongoing investigation into parties held in Whitehall during the pandemic.
It is deeply, deeply contemptible that not just the prime minister but senior civil servants have allowed such people to have their reputations attacked in order to protect the sociopathic narcissist squatting in the No 10 flat, he wrote in a blog post.
He claimed everyone close to Mr Johnson knew he ‘encouraged media attacks’ on the junior members of staff to divert attention from he and his wife Carrie Johnson’s own breaking of social distancing rules.
Everyone who is ‘propping up’ the prime minister should feel ashamed, Cummings added, insisting some ‘very senior officials have turned a blind eye’ The former chief advisor called for each and every one of them to resign, or failing that, to be ‘swept out’ of the Cabinet Office and Downing Street by Mr Johnson’s successor.