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Explained: What are the options with Boris Johnson after ‘Partygate’ criticism?

The scandal has deeply offended the British public who are pointing out Johnson’s double standards and hypocrisy when it comes to following appropriate Covid-19 behaviour and therefore see him unfit to run the country.

By: Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: January 21, 2022 9:46:58 am
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate at Parliament in London, Britain, January 19, 2022. (Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently defending calls – even from MPs of his own party – demanding that he quit, a scenario triggered by what the country’s media has dubbed the “partygate” or the “Christmas party” scandal. It concerns alleged parties attended by Johnson in May and December 2020, as the rest of the UK was under lockdown rules.

The scandal has deeply offended the British public who are pointing out Johnson’s double standards and hypocrisy when it comes to following appropriate Covid-19 behaviour and therefore see him unfit to run the country. At the moment, the results of a probe into the alleged parties, which is being conducted by a senior civil servant Sue Gray, are eagerly awaited.

Johnson, who graduated from Oxford University’s Balliol College in 1987, went on to join The Times as a trainee journalist. He was fired by the paper for making up a quote for a front-page article. He subsequently got a job at the paper the Daily Telegraph, for which he worked at the Brussels correspondent from 1989-1994 and became known for writing eurosceptic articles.

Few months before the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2016, Johnson wrote in a column for the Daily Telegraph, “We are seeing a slow and invisible process of legal colonisation, as the EU infiltrates just about every area of public policy.”

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According to the book All Out War, days before writing the aforementioned article, he wrote another column that was unpublished, in which he seems to be opposing the idea of Brexit, “This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms. The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”. Johnson told Sky News, however, that the latter article was “semi-parodic” in nature.

A documentary profiling Johnson released by BBC Newsnight shows Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson saying that one of the appeals of Johnson was that he was “rule breaker”.

“This is why he is dementing for other politicians because they’re all, to an extent, playing the part assigned to them by the party. You know, you have to be loyal, you have to be a good Tory. Boris has realised quite early on that he would go further if he broke all those rules and people would love him even more,” his sister said about Johnson 2013.

Even so, in the context of the current scandal, his violations of protocol amid a public health crisis seem to be lacking the charm associated with his previous rule-breaking stints.

The current situation

There is a lot of anger towards Johnson, which could be made worse by some figures released by the Office for National Statistics. The figures suggest that the level of inflation–fuelled in part by the high cost of energy, food and transportation–is the highest since 1992.

Yesterday, in a move that is being seen as an attempt to placate people in England, Johnson announced the removal of all COVID-19 restrictions that were put in place to tackle the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

In another move that is being seen by critics as an attempt to garner support for Johnson amid the scandal, the government announced on Monday that it will cap the licensing fees for BBC–which account for a majority of the broadcaster’s revenues– for a period of two years.

As of now, some members of Johnson’s own Tory party who may be seeing him as a liability and therefore consider him dispensable are urging him to quit. Among those calling for his resignation are former cabinet minister David Davis who said on Wednesday, “In the name of God, go.” Davis’s comments followed the defection of Tory MP Christian Wakeford to the Labour party (the official opposition in the UK Parliament).

The BBC reported that so far six Conservative (or Tory party) MPs have publicly declared no confidence in the prime minister. Under the Conservative party rules, a vote of no confidence can be triggered if 15 per cent of the party MPs write to the chair of a 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. In absolute figures, 54 MPs will need to write to Brady after which the vote will be conducted by the committee. To survive this vote, if it comes to that, Johnson will have to win the support of at least 50 percent of his party’s MPs.

In December 2018, Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence but was saved from being ousted for sometime.

What are the options with Boris Johnson?

Last week, the prime minister apologised for attending a party in the Downing Street gardens in May 2020 and tried to defend himself by saying that he thought of the party as being a work event. “Mr. Speaker I want to apologise…” he said.

“No. 10 is a big department with the gardens as an extension of the office, which is being in constant use because of the roll of fresh air in stopping the virus and I went into the garden just after 6 on the 20th of May, 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office twenty five minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.”

His critics said that his defence that he did not realise it was a party was “ridiculous” and “offensive to the British public”.

But even though Johnson is in the middle of a political storm made worse by the opposition he is facing from members of his own party, according to the BBC, Conservative MPs are taking a “step back” and are thinking again if toppling Johnson is the right thing to do. Johnson has so far resisted calls that are asking him to step down.

BBC also said that the mood of some of the Conservative MPs may have changed following the defection of Wakeford, a move which seems to have backfired by uniting the Tory MPs who are now pondering the direction the scandal will take. Some are in favour of waiting for Gray’s report (which comes out next week) and then taking a call. It remains to be seen how things will turn out for Johnson, who has wanted to be “world king” since he was a young boy.

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