LONDON — Boris Johnson has tried to turn the page on a row over government parties breaking the coronavirus lockdown by reminding his MPs he is playing a major role in the war response in Ukraine.
Britain’s prime minister – who was fined by police last week for a rally held in 2020 when it was illegal to meet indoors under COVID rules – apologized to parliament on Tuesday “in all humility”.
The rally was held for Johnson’s birthday shortly after the pandemic hit. Johnson claimed he only attended briefly and it did not occur to him that he was breaking the rules.
The Prime Minister told MPs when they met for the first time since receiving the sanction that he ‘acknowledges the pain and anger’ felt by the public and that ‘people have a right to expect better from their Prime minister”.
But Johnson immediately turned to the war engulfing Ukraine, saying that because of the anger at him he felt “an even greater sense of obligation to respect the priorities of the British people and to respond in the best possible way.” traditions of our country to Putin’s barbaric assault”. against Ukraine.
He drew attention to a virtual meeting with world leaders he had attended on Tuesday afternoon and referred to his recent trip to Kyiv to see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who praised Britain’s response to the Russian invasion.
Labor leader Keir Starmer didn’t believe it. He accused the Prime Minister of “distortions and deviations”, saying of Johnson’s conduct: “It’s not a fixable problem in the system. That’s the whole point. That’s what he’s doing.
Safiah Ngah, spokesperson for the COVID-19 campaign group Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson’s apology marked “the words of someone who regrets being caught, not someone who regrets the harm that he has done”.
Johnson will be more concerned about the reaction of Tory MPs in the coming days. Fellow parliamentarians hold Johnson’s fate in their hands, but have so far been reluctant to trigger an internal party vote on his leadership.
Tory MP and former Cabinet minister Mark Harper has called on Johnson to resign, saying he “is no longer worthy of the great office he holds”. Yet few others broke ranks to criticize their leader.
Johnson faces another showdown on Thursday when MPs vote on whether to refer him to a Commons committee that deals with contempt of parliament cases, as he claims he misled MPs while he had previously said that all COVID rules had been followed.
The Prime Minister has stressed that he did not do this deliberately, and the success of his defense will depend on how persuasive MPs find this argument. Misleading Parliament has traditionally been a matter of resignation.
Johnson confirmed he had now paid the police fine and reminded MPs that the police investigation was not yet complete.
Critics from Johnson’s own party predicted that this week’s vote would go his way. But they said he could still face a threat to his position if the Tories do poorly in next month’s local elections or if he is fined again for something seen as more egregious.
A senior Tory MP said a ‘tremendous number’ of his colleagues thought they had been ‘seriously disappointed’ but were ‘waiting after the election’.