Covid party scandal: Senior Tories urge British PM Boris Johnson to quit after apology 

Posted by News Express | 13 January 2022 | 660 times

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Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior Tories to stand down as prime minister after he admitted attending a drinks party during lockdown.

The PM apologised for the way he had handled the event in the Downing Street garden in 2020 and said he understood the public's "rage" over it.

Cabinet members including deputy PM Dominic Raab rallied round Mr Johnson.

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and senior backbencher William Wragg have called on him to quit.

Mr Ross, an MP and an MSP, said he had a "difficult conversation" with Mr Johnson after the PM's apology to MPs earlier on Wednesday.

He said he would write to the 1922 Committee - which organises Tory leadership contests - to register his lack of confidence in the PM.

"He is the prime minister, it is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions," he said.

If 54 backbench Conservative MPs send letters to the 1922 committee it will trigger a leadership challenge.

Ministers have urged MPs to wait for the outcome of an investigation into alleged Covid-rule breaking at Downing Street parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray, which they say will be published shortly.

But another backbencher William Wragg, who chairs an influential select committee, said the prime minister's position was "untenable".

"I don't think it should be left to the findings of a civil servant to determine the future of the prime minister and indeed who governs this country," he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson sought to calm anger about reports he had attended a "bring your own booze" party at the height of the first lockdown.

He admitted he was at the 20 May 2020 gathering for about 25 minutes, so that he could "thank groups of staff" for their hard work.

He said: "I believed implicitly that this was a work event."

But he added: "With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside.

"I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that - even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance - there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM's defence was "so ridiculous that it's actually offensive to the British public" and he called on Mr Johnson "to do the decent thing and resign".

The SNP's leader at Westminster Ian Blackford called on Tory MPs to force the PM out - and Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said he had to go.

Sir Ed has written to the Metropolitan Police to ask them to investigate Mr Johnson's attendance at the 20 May party.

The PM's statement was met with a mixed reaction from Tory MPs, with some saying he had sounded genuinely contrite.

Dan Poulter, who also works as a psychiatrist, said: "I am pleased that the prime minister has apologised, but it's not much consolation to those of us who cared for patients on the frontline of the NHS and saw them die of Covid".

Dominic Raab said the PM had "given a very clear account" of what had happened and had apologised for the "perception" of rule breaking.

He said detailed claims about the 20 May party were being investigated by Sue Gray and the prime minister would update the Commons once she had finished her work.

Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove also backed the PM at a meeting of the 1922 committee.

Speaking to the BBC before the meeting of Tory backbenchers, Mr Gove said it was "right for the PM to apologise" but it was also "important we all wait for Sue Gray's report to conclude".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has been visiting a pharmaceutical firm in the West Country, has not been available for interview.

But on Wednesday evening, he tweeted that Mr Johnson was "right to apologise", and he supported the PM's call for "patience" whilst Ms Gray completed her investigation.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns in 2020. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

10 May 2020

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps" out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to "obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

15 May 2020

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

20 May 2020

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

17 July 2020

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality" in England by Christmas "through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

5 November 2020

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

13 November 2020

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

27 November 2020

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

2 December 2020

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

10 December 2020

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staffs were invited.

14 December 2020

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

15 December 2020

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

16 December 2020

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate" and an "error of judgment” by staff.

18 December 2020

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

Courtesy (excluding headline) BBC

Source: News Express

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