All hell broke loose last week in Downing Street. A damning report by U.K.’s senior civil servant Sue Gray into British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “parties” during lockdown has rocked the government. Johnson has apologized in public for flouting Covid norms, but his fate is still hanging in the balance.
The report, which has not been released in full, calls the behavior in the parties “difficult to justify”. It termed partying a serious failure on the government as it did not consider the public’s sufferings during the lockdown. The report also presented evidence for excessive alcohol usage in Downing Street offices during these parties. Many incriminating photos were also part of the report.
The report investigated twelve such gatherings in 2020 and 2021 but has not been released in full yet as an active police investigation is ongoing. The police have started a criminal investigation into the allegations that both the PM and others breached COVID lockdown protocols multiple times during these events. Notable occasions include Johnson’s birthday party in June 2020, two other events around Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.
Calls for resignation
The public is angry at the government as the officials partied while people were restricted to even move out of their homes. Moreover, severe limitations due to COVID meant that many businesses suffered heavy losses amid many deaths due to the disease. The opposition lawmakers have called for PM’s resignation.
While Boris has apologized in the parliament and vowed to make changes, even his partymen are eagerly awaiting the results of the police investigation. Many have openly commented about ousting him if the investigation showed that he flouted protocols.
Tory MPs Tobias Ellwood, Andrew Mitchell and Peter Aldous have called for Johnson’s removal. Many are preparing for a no-confidence vote. The Partygate could not have come at the worst time for Johnson. He is already being blamed for a health department report which declared $12 billion as a “loss” in the procurement of safety gear for health workers.
Opposition continued to attack the PM vigorously. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the investigations were a “mark of shame”. Angela Rayner of the Labour party said that the “public has the right to know if he has flouted the rules”.
Many independent public surveys showed that most of the public wanted his resignation. For example, 69% of people surveyed in a Savanta ComRes poll and 63% in a YouGov poll wanted the same.
Open and direct attack
The opposition leaders waged an open and direct attack at the PM. Ian Blackford, Leader of the Scottish National Party, accused Boris Johnson of lying and misleading the public regarding the parties.
“He has willfully misled the parliament,” Blackford accused, leading to an uproar in the House. “Nobody believed them (PM’s statements) then, and nobody believes you now”, he added. Blackford kept looking at Boris and addressed him directly during these remarks.
In his speech, Blackford tore into Boris Johnson several times, “Prime Minister’s personal integrity is in the ditch…. Where is the shame, where is the dignity?… What the public sees is a man who has debased the office of the Prime Minister, shrunk responsibility and blamed his staff at every turn.”
Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, repeatedly asked Blackford to take back his remarks. However, Blackford stood his ground leading to his expulsion from the House.
Leader of the opposition Keir Starmer gave a rousing speech. “There can be no doubt that the Prime Minister himself is subject of a criminal investigation”, he said. “By repeatedly flouting the rules, he has proved to be unfit to be the Prime Minister,” he added.
“He has now fallen back to the usual excuse. It’s everybody’s fault but his. They go. He stays,” Starmer said.
It is important to note that in any working democracy, such events are expected. Even when a Prime Minister of a country errs, there are enough checks and balances in the U.K.’s constitution, which resulted in him apologizing for his acts.
An independent probe conducted by a senior government official points to non-interference at the top. That the report was released despite damaging conclusions is comforting. But, more importantly, the fact that a probe can be carried out, against the ruling party’s top brass, shows that the police are free to do their jobs.
The public has fearlessly expressed their opinions while the opposition MPs can air their criticism without backlash. But, interestingly, even the PM’s partymen have challenged him to come clean.
Altogether all these events point to a healthy democratic set-up in the U.K. despite the ugly details of Partygate leaking one after the other.