Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain, is facing increasing pressure over his decision to have a “lockdown party” with major political figures from around the world. Critics are calling for him to scrap it and blame Brexit instead.
LONDON— Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, faced mounting political pressure over charges that he violated lockdown rules by attending a drinks party in Downing Street, as several Conservative legislators plotted how to depose him and one defected to the opposition Labour Party.
During the May 2020 lockdown, Mr. Johnson admitted to attending a “bring your own alcohol” reception in the Downing Street garden, when Britons were only permitted to meet one other person outdoors. The prime minister has apologized for the incident, saying he mistook it for a professional function and wasn’t informed that it was against the regulations.
The Conservative Party has been losing ground in public opinion polls, with surveys revealing widespread dissatisfaction with the episode, nicknamed “Partygate” by British tabloids.
Following Mr. Johnson’s huge election victory in 2019, a small number of Tory legislators who were elected for the first time are driving attempts to depose him. Other long-serving Members of Parliament looked to be losing patience with Mr. Johnson on Wednesday. During a tense discussion in the House of Commons, Conservative member and former cabinet minister David Davis ordered Mr. Johnson, “In the name of god, leave.”
On Wednesday, David Davis called on Mr. Johnson to resign as Prime Minister. ‘In the name of God, go,’ Mr. Davis said to his commander during questioning.
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One of Mr. Johnson’s legislators resigned to the opposition Labour Party, dealing him another setback. Christian Wakeford wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron, saying he could no longer support a government “that has continually proved itself out of touch” with his constituency. Mr. Wakeford had earlier said that he had sent Mr. Johnson a letter of no confidence.
Many other MPs, on the other hand, say they will reserve judgment until an internal investigation into lockdown parties is completed.
Because the Conservatives have such a large majority in Parliament, any attempt to depose Mr. Johnson would constitute a party coup. In the 650-seat House of Commons, the Conservatives have 359 MPs.
The procedure of defenestrating a sitting party leader requires a persistent mutiny, and the scope of Mr. Johnson’s defenestration attempts is unknown.
To force a vote, 15 percent of Conservative Party MPs must submit letters of no confidence in their leader to a special committee.
If he is to be ousted, a majority of Conservative Party MPs must vote to replace him. The real number of no-confidence letters sent is only known by Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which monitors the nomination of the party’s leaders.
Six Conservative legislators have openly declared that they have sent letters of no confidence.
Mr. Johnson started a brusque defense of his government’s performance in office on Wednesday in an attempt to rally wavering legislators. “I am really happy of what this administration has accomplished,” he told Parliament, referring to the vaccination rollout and choices on economic liberalization. Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, slammed what he called “absurd and plain implausible” reasons for the prime minister’s participation at the garden party during the lockdown.
“I imagine a lot of colleagues are reflecting on what they’ve heard in their districts and are under a lot of pressure right now because the British people is very outraged with what they’ve heard,” government minister James Heappey said on Wednesday. “This doesn’t seem like the moment to be replacing our prime minister, if you ask me,” he continued.
Efforts to bolster Mr. Johnson’s reputation have been harmed by a series of humiliating discoveries.
Mr. Johnson recently apologized to Queen Elizabeth II after it was revealed that his workers had a party in Downing Street the night before her husband Prince Philip’s death in April 2021. Images of the queen sitting alone during the burial ceremony, which took place at a period when lockdown restrictions severely limited the number of people allowed to come, moved Britons last year.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, apologized at a Parliamentary session for attending a party on Downing Street in 2020 when draconian Covid-19 lockdown measures were in place. Johnson claimed he thought it was a “work-related incident.” Photo credit: PRU/AFP/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson’s former chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, claims the prime minister lied to Parliament when he denied knowing the May 2020 drinks party was a party.
Mr. Cummings wrote on his blog this week that he remembered talking to Mr. Johnson at the time about his primary private secretary Martin Reynolds organizing drinks for roughly 100 individuals.
Mr. Cummings remembers telling Mr. Johnson, “Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grasp this madhouse.”
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff, claims he advised the prime minister against throwing a party when the country was under lockdown.
Mark Thomas/Zuma Press photo
Mr. Johnson denies informing Parliament or knowing the occasion was a party. A minister is required to resign if he or she willfully misleads Parliament, according to the United Kingdom’s ministerial code of conduct.
Given the secrecy behind the letters of no confidence, political observers say it’s difficult to quantify the magnitude of the revolt. Lawmakers have called the current Conservative rebellion in Parliament the “Pork Pie conspiracy,” since a major MP driving the movement from an area known for its pork pies. A “porky pie” is also a rhyming slang term for a lie in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Johnson won an election in 2019 in part by persuading blue collar people in northern England to vote for the Conservative Party. Following the controversy, Mr. Johnson’s personal net approval rating among these voters plunged to minus 35, according to a JL Partners survey released on Wednesday.
Mr. Johnson conducted a brief television interview on Tuesday, during which he stood masked with his arms folded behind his back, repeatedly apologizing and looked teary-eyed when questioned about his apologies to the queen.
He has encouraged party members and the British people to wait for the results of a senior civil servant’s investigation into multiple drinking events that occurred in Downing Street during different lockdowns. The report’s release date is unknown, according to a government spokeswoman.
Max Colchester can be reached at [email protected]
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