With varying degrees of enthusiasm, senior UK government ministers on Thursday expressed support for the Tory PM Boris Johnson and rejected resignation requests for attending a garden party during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown.
Many other Tories have been sticking their tongue out, waiting to see whether the crisis looming over Johnson’s prime minister will fade or intensify.
Johnson apologized to the House of Commons on Wednesday for attending a ‘Bring your own alcohol’ party in the garden of the Prime Minister’s Office and Residence in Downing Street in May 2020. About 100 staff were invited. by a senior official to the Prime Minister at what was billed as a “socially distanced drink” event.
UK PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON Apologizes As Pressure Builds To Resign From “PARTYGATE”
At the time, the law prohibited Britons from meeting more than one person outside their home as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people have been cut off from family and friends, and even prevented from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Johnson said he understood the “rage” of the public, but did not admit to wrongdoing, saying he viewed the rally as a professional event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson has urged people to wait for the findings of an investigation by senior official Sue Gray into several parts suspected by government staff during the pandemic. Gray, a public service veteran with a reputation as a straight shooter, is expected to report by the end of the month.
Johnson was spending Thursday locked in Downing Street. A planned visit to a coronavirus vaccination center has been canceled after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus, the prime minister’s office said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Johnson’s apology had been “very, very sincere” – but added that the Prime Minister did not believe he had done anything wrong.
“The Prime Minister has indicated that he does not believe he has done anything outside the rules,” Lewis told Sky News. “If you look at what the survey reveals, people will be able to make up their own minds then.”
Gray does not have the power to punish officials and Johnson has not said what he would do if she found out he was at fault.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – often cited as a possible Johnson successor – tweeted: “I fully support the Prime Minister as he pushes our country forward.
Another potential rival for the top post, Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak, was more low-key. He tweeted: “The Prime Minister was right to apologize and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray leads her investigation.” Sunak was notably absent from the House of Commons during Johnson’s statement on Wednesday; he was 200 miles away on a visit to the South West of England.
Opposition politicians say Johnson should resign for attending the party and for his previous denials that there was a rule violation.
Many Conservatives fear the partygate scandal could turn out to be a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his spending and moral judgment.
Some have joined opposition calls for Johnson’s resignation. Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, said Johnson’s position “is no longer tenable”. Lawmaker Roger Gale called the Prime Minister a “walking dead man”.
If he does not resign, Johnson could be ousted by a vote of no-confidence among party lawmakers, which would be triggered if 15% of Tory lawmakers wrote letters asking for it. It is not known how many letters have already been sent.
Labor Party Home Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy said police, not just a civil servant, should investigate.
“It is strange that the police have not launched any sort of broader investigation given the amount of evidence on what is going on in Downing Street,” she said.
Nandy said there was “immense” public anger over the party’s disclosures.
“From what I see streaming into my inbox this morning, I think the Prime Minister shouldn’t be sure he will survive this,” she said.
Many conservatives were waiting to see how the response to the crisis will develop in the coming days.
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Conservative lawmaker Philip Dunne said the allegations were “very serious”.
“I think the Prime Minister was right to apologize yesterday, and I think it is fair that we wait and see what Sue Gray’s investigation establishes,” he told Times Radio. “People will then have to bear the consequences of whatever happens.”