Boris Johnson: why is he in so many problems, and can his political career last? | Partygate
Boris Johnson spent the evening of Wednesday March 22 being questioned by a committee of Conservative and opposition MPs about a series of meetings in Downing Street about the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The events became known as the Partygate scandal.
What happened this week?
Johnson resign as prime minister After some controversies in the United Kingdom on July 7 last year – the biggest of which was Partygate. In truth, his presidency, which began with his conservative party winning the national general election in December 2019, was plagued by setbacks.
But Partygate was probably the biggest of the lot. And on Wednesday, Johnson was asked about it by a committee of his fellow parliamentarians. His future is in their hands.
So what exactly was Partygate?
The story began with Pippa Crerar, political editor of The Guardian. In October 2021, while working for another British newspaper, the Daily Mirror, he received a tip. One of his sources told him that Covid rules had been broken at 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister. While the rest of the country was following lockdown rules to contain the coronavirus pandemic, some Downing Street staff were less careful. In fact, they were gathering and drinking. Periodically
As Crerar explained in an article for the Guardian published earlier this week, it took him a while to feel confident enough to publish a story. Because, to begin with, it was hard for him to believe what he said…
So how many parties were there?
The first story, published in December 2021, alleged two illegal incidents. But when the media started digging, more was revealed. Many, many more. An official was asked to investigate, he looked 15 events. And then the London police got involved. At the end of the investigation, detectives fined 83 people. Johnson was one of them.
The details of these “parties” caused outrage; an official report stated that several events were drunken and rowdy. At one outing there was loud karaoke, someone was sick and there was a fight. At a Christmas party, red wine was splashed on a wall.
All this was happening as millions of Britons were obeying strict lockdown rules. They didn’t go out. After all, Johnson, as prime minister, begged them not to. He asked the people to follow the rules devised by his government. After Johnson was fined, there were calls to quit, but he refused. But his troubles were far from over.
“All leads were fully followed in No. 10” – but was it?
After the first story was published, Johnson moved to the House of Commons, the democratically elected house of 650 members of parliament representing the constituencies of the United Kingdom. Johnson denied there was any bias, telling MPs that “all guidelines were met at No 10”.
It was a line he held many times over the next few months. However, as time went on, that emphatic statement became more and more unbelievable. As the extent of the misbehavior and lawlessness became apparent, it became comically untrue.
Politicians can get away with a lot in the UK, but lying to parliament is a line where MPs don’t dare. There is a committee looking into whether MPs have made misleading statements, and Johnson was summoned before them on Wednesday.
Although Johnson has now admitted that the statements he made at the time were wrong, the committee is looking into whether he made them “recklessly”, meaning he should have known they were nonsense. He lived in the house where most of the parties took place, he was photographed at some of them, and the police fined him. Could he really not know what was going on under his roof?
Johnson’s defense: “Hand to heart…I didn’t lie”
Johnson was bullish when he went before the committee. He said none of his staff ever told him they were breaking the rules, so as far as he was concerned, he was telling the truth. He criticized the questions about the events he personally attended as “complete nonsense”. He argued that it would be “absolute madness” for him to deliberately mislead parliament.
At the end of the three-and-a-half-hour session, he said he could only conclude that the commission was right, and declared that he would accept no other verdict.
“I think people will judge for themselves, based on the evidence you presented, the fairness of this commission. I’m sure you’ll show that you’ve been right.’
What happens next?
Despite Johnson’s protests, it was obvious from the questions he was asked and the answers he gave and the body language in the room that the former prime minister remains in deep trouble. An MP on the committee said his testimony was “weak”. Johnson, another MP suggested, had misinterpreted his Covid policy.
If the committee decides Johnson is deliberately misleading the House of Commons, it could suspend it – a move that could trigger a “recall petition” – essentially allowing Johnson to hold an election in his constituency. Condemnation of such an official rebuke could sink Johnson’s political career, which has seen a spectacular decline since the heady days when he won the national election three years ago.
The commission has not said when it will issue its final report: it could be weeks or months.
How have people reacted to this latest twist in the saga?
Johnson’s parliamentary allies insist their man has done nothing wrong, but these die-hard supporters appear to be dwindling. He still has a lot of support in Britain’s right-wing media, particularly The Telegraph and The Telegraph Daily Mail.
But many of his colleagues in the Conservative Party seem tired of the perpetual drama surrounding Johnson. And even the voters, who were inclined to forgive the former prime minister for his poor attitude in the past, are not forgiving now.
Definitely if that show of hands is anything to go by. On Thursday night, a BBC current affairs show asked its audience if they believed Johnson’s evidence to the committee. Nobody did.