Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
BRITAIN’S main opposition leader on Sunday (16) accused prime minister Boris Johnson of breaking the law, but the government vowed changes after an explosive series of revelations about lockdown-breaching parties.
In the latest, Johnson’s wife Carrie was photographed on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph embracing a friend at a September 2020 party, in violation of the then rules on social distancing.
Carrie Johnson “regrets the momentary lapse”, a spokesperson told the newspaper, after she was also pictured with the prime minister and others enjoying drinks in the Downing Street garden.
At least six lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative party have now called publicly for him to quit, while others say they are awaiting the findings of an internal inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
“I have regretfully come to the conclusion that Boris Johnson’s position is now untenable, that his resignation is the only way to bring this whole unfortunate episode to an end and I am working with colleagues to impress that view on Number 10,” former minister Tim Loughton tweeted.
Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is enjoying an opinion poll surge on the back of the Downing Street “partygate” allegations, said the facts were already clear.
“I think he broke the law. I think he’s as good as admitted that he broke the law,” Starmer told BBC television, accusing Johnson also of lying to parliament.
Gray only has the remit to establish the facts, he added, calling for the police to look into a possible criminal inquiry once her report is out.
“The prime minister has degraded the office of prime minister and he has lost full authority not only in his own party, but in the country,” Starmer said.
Interviewer in tears
Three polls this week have each given Labour a 10-point lead over the Conservatives, and some in the ruling party want Johnson out in good time before Britain holds local elections in May.
The latest poll in Sunday’s Observer newspaper said Johnson’s personal approval rating had fallen below the worst figure recorded by his hapless predecessor, Theresa May.
Government minister Oliver Dowden, the Conservatives’ co-chairman, said Johnson was “very contrite and deeply apologetic”.
But Dowden backed Johnson to stay in office as he was interviewed by Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips, who broke down in tears as he described observing the rules when his own daughter died during the pandemic.
“I can tell you that when he responds to the House of Commons, as he has committed to do so, he will make sure that we address the kind of culture that has allowed that to happen in the first place,” Dowden said.
After weeks of denials and stonewalling, Johnson this week apologised in parliament for at least one boozy event organised by his staff which he attended in May 2020, when Britons were banned from socialising.
Two other parties were held in April 2021 as Queen Elizabeth II prepared to bury Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years. Downing Street sent apologies to Buckingham Palace, calling them “deeply regrettable”.
Number 10 reboot
But those were not isolated events, according to Saturday’s Daily Mirror, which published a photograph of a fridge being delivered to a Downing Street back door in December 2020 for “Wine time Fridays”.
Reports at the weekend said Johnson plans to reset his premiership with a clearout of top aides and a blitz of policy announcements, including an easing of current Covid restrictions on January 26.
Dowden indicated that the restrictions in England would indeed be lifted, as a surge in infections from the Omicron variant over the New Year begins to fade.
Starmer agreed with the need to lift the curbs “as soon as possible” if government scientists agree, but noted the backdrop of political scandal.
“I want them to be lifted because the medical science says they should be lifted, not simply because the prime minister is in a real mess and he’s desperately trying to get out of it,” the Labour leader said.