Home International UK PM Johnson seeks to defuse ‘partygate’ row with Parliament apology

UK PM Johnson seeks to defuse ‘partygate’ row with Parliament apology

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Johnson has paid a fine for attending an event at Downing Street on his birthday in June 2020, and may face further fines as London’s Metropolitan Police complete their probe into a dozen gatherings in government buildings during the coronavirus lockdowns of the past two years.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised to the House of Commons for breaking the UK lockdown rules that he devised, while insisting he didn’t think at the time that he had done anything wrong. Picture: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

UK PRIME Minister Boris Johnson apologised to the House of Commons for breaking the lockdown rules that he devised, while insisting he didn’t think at the time that he had done anything wrong.

Johnson has paid a fine for attending an event at Downing Street on his birthday in June 2020, and may face further fines as London’s Metropolitan Police complete their probe into a dozen gatherings in government buildings during the coronavirus lockdowns of the past two years.

“It did not occur to me then or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room, just before a vital meeting on Covid-19 strategy, could amount to a breach of the rules,” Johnson said, seeking to explain why he previously said no rules were broken.

“That was my mistake. And I apologize for it, unreservedly.”

Johnson is trying to ride out a scandal that has dragged on for months and could still sink his leadership, not least because he’s the first prime minister known to have broken the law while in office.

In February, his premiership was on the brink amid Tory discontent over a series of missteps, but many have reassessed in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it’s the wrong time to consider a change of leader.

That’s something Johnson sought to highlight, by delivering his apology in a statement that also touched on the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living domestically. The premier said he is busy “standing up to Russia.”

Members of Parliament will vote in the Commons on Thursday on whether to refer Johnson to the committee on standards for misleading Parliament. With a majority of around 80, Johnson is unlikely to lose a vote, but a significant number of abstentions may damage his authority.

Knowing this, Labour leader Keir Starmer directed his appeal to the Tory MPs sitting behind Johnson: “Don’t follow in the slipstream of an out-of-control, out-of-touch prime minister. Remove the prime minister from office. Bring honesty and integrity back to our politics.”

Opposition MPs shouted “criminal” at Johnson as Starmer accused him of dragging “everyone else down with him”. The Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford said if Johnson had any dignity, he would resign.

Still, it is the response of his own side that matters most to Johnson. Many Conservative MPs have shrugged off the fine. But risks remain for the prime minister, especially if Tories see voters in their district turning against them.

Conservative whips, or parliamentary enforcers, have called a meeting of all Conservative MPs on Tuesday evening. It may be a rowdy meeting. A frequent critic of the premier, Conservative MP Mark Harper told Johnson: “I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds.”

After his intervention, Harper tweeted that he has written to the Tory Party’s influential 1922 committee to say he has lost confidence in Johnson’s leadership. If 54 Conservative MPs, or 15% of the total, do so, it will trigger a no-confidence vote in the premier.

Bloomberg News

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