Wednesday brought the traditional “Prime Minister Question Time” tradition to the British Parliament, when the UK Prime Minister stands before his fellow elected legislators to answer their questions. It’s the weekly political theater that typically makes some headlines, but this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced the gravest questions of his time in office.
Earlier this week, the UK media received an email from Johnson’s right-hand man in May 2020, inviting some 100 people to the Prime Minister’s official residence, 10 Downing Street, to a “bring your own drink” gathering. At the time, the British were under strictclosure measures that made such gatherings illegal.
“I want to apologize,” the prime minister began on Wednesday, acknowledging the “anger” that the British felt towards him and his government.
“There were things that I did not understand well,” he said. But he insisted not. 10’s backyard was “an extension of the office,” and when he went out into the garden on the night in question, for which he said it was 25 minutes “to thank the staff,” he implicitly believed it was a work event. “. “
“In hindsight,” Johnson said, “I should have sent everyone in.”
TheThey were clear enough during that shutdown: Indoor households were not mixed, and outdoors, people were allowed to meet only one member of another household, as long as social distancing was maintained. Johnson’s chief private secretary Martin Reynolds’ invitation to up to 100 people, which has been seen by the BBC and other major UK media outlets, said the outdoor gathering would be socially distanced, but clearly more than two. people from two different households. were expected.
By admitting his attendance, Johnson almost confirmed he was among the roughly two dozen people who violated the government’s own legally binding rules, while the rest of the country was barred from even visiting family members in hospitals or attending funerals of murdered loved ones. by COVID-19. Johnson insisted that was not the case, as in his mind it was a business meeting. However, there was nothing in the UK government rules that allowed such gatherings, regardless of their purpose.
Opposition leader Kier Starmer was one of many politicians who refused to accept Johnson’s apology on Wednesday.
“The pathetic defense that ‘he didn’t realize he was at a party,'” Starmer raged, was “so ridiculous it’s actually offensive to the British public.”
“Now are you going to do the decent thing and quit?” Starmer asked, calling Johnson a “man without shame.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Johnson had declined to comment on the allegations and said with a characteristic smile that he could not comment because the “work event” in his own backyard was under formal investigation, along with other meetings allegedly held at violation of closure. rules of your staff.
Calls for Johnson’s resignation grew louder from the opposition benches of Parliament even before Question Time, and Johnson’s fellow Conservative lawmakers made it increasingly clear that if the allegations were upheld, the prime minister’s position it would probably be unsustainable.
If you feel like you’ve heard this story already, it’s because Johnson already had to defend his government from allegations that he and his senior advisers broke their own rules – at least twice.
It first emerged that in March 2020, Johnson’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings drove for hours with his wife and children to visit family in the north of England and visited a tourist hotspot in the region.. Despite the uproar, Johnson refused to fire Cummings, who later resigned.
Then in December 2021,That Major No. The 10 Downing Street staff had a “business meeting” that appeared to be more of a Christmas party a year earlier, again, during closing.
Nor was anyone fired for that transgression and Johnson, insisting that he was unaware of the meeting (which took place at his home and which he allegedly attended), told Parliament that he understood “how irritating it would be to think that people who have He has been setting the rules, he has not been following the rules. ”
He too was “furious,” he assured the frustrated nation.
But when asked earlier this week about the invitation to a soiree in the garden that he himself acknowledged attending, the prime minister seemed anything but furious. His smiling refusals to comment were not well received.
Opposition parties demanded his resignation before Wednesday’s parliamentary session began, and a growing chorus of allies from the prime minister’s conservative party had made it clear that Johnson could not defend confirmation of the claims.
“How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t!” Conservative MP Christian Wakeford said in a tweet. “It’s embarrassing, and worse, it further erodes confidence in politics when it’s already low.”
“Listening to colleagues on the other side of the house, there is horror: people are horrified by what seems to have happened,” Baroness Altmann, a former Conservative government minister and a life member of the House of Lords, told the program on Tuesday. BBC Newsnight. “What appears to have happened is absolutely indefensible, and we cannot have a country where the leadership believes it can make rules for others and break them itself.”
It was not immediately clear whether Johnson had managed to convince Parliament, and more importantly enough members of his own party, on Wednesday that what “appears to have happened” did not actually happen, and the pressure on him to that I resign, I am sure that I would continue to grow.
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, wasted no time in declaring Johnson’s apology insufficient.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that his position is no longer sustainable,” Ross said, becoming the highest-ranking member of the party to call for Johnson’s resignation. “I spoke to the prime minister this afternoon and explained my reasons and explained my position.”
Under UK law, if he finally decides to retire, Johnson’s conservative party, based on his victory in the last national elections, would elect a new leader internally to take over as prime minister. However, there will be demands from opposition lawmakers for the government to call new elections, to allow the nation’s voters to cast their own verdict.
One thing became clear after the prime minister’s questions: Johnson was not yet ready to give up.