British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn't exactly had an easy ride since taking over from his predecessor Theresa May in late 2019, just months before the COVID pandemic engulfed the world. And since the dawn of the pandemic, BoJo and his senior advisors have been repeatedly accused of hypocrisy. The issue at hand is that the British government famously imposed some of the most complicated restrictions on movement and businesses during the first year and a half of the pandemic.
As millions of Britons struggled to comply with onerous restrictions like the "rule of six", over in Downing Street, BoJo and his team sometimes acted like the rules didn't apply to them. First there was Dominic Cummings, BoJo's (deeply unpopular) senior advisor, who ended up quitting way back in November 2020 after he was caught breaking the lockdown rules that he helped to craft.
But the most recent scandal directly involves the prime minister himself, and enough public anger has been harnessed that increasingly members of the opposition (and even some loyal Tories) are pushing on him to resign. The reason is that footage has emerged from inside Downing Street showing the PM and some of his top aides holding a holiday party. The ensuing scandal over the incident has even earned its own nickname: "Partygate".
To be clear, "Partygate" doesn't refer to just one incident: An official probe is looking into at least seven occasions in 2020 when BoJo and his Downing Street staff may have held "parties" in violation of lockdown rules.But the most galling incident involves a garden party held at No. 10 back in May 2020.
The backlash has already led to the resignation of at least one BoJo aide: Allegra Stratton, a press secretary who was caught on tape joking about breaking lockdown rules.
But now it's proving harder for the government to justify the "bring your own booze" Garden Party mentioned above.
On Wednesday morning, BoJo faced the House of Commons to answer questions about "Partygate" as an official investigation led by Sue Gray continues its work. During his remarks, BoJo repeatedly apologized, but he insisted he truly didn't feel at the time that these incidents violated the lockdown guidelines, and that Gray's inquiry has so far painted him in an unfairly harsh light.
"Although I cannot support the conclusions of the current inquiry...I have learned enough that there are things that we certainly didn't get right, and I must take responsibility," BoJo said.
He insisted that he believed the BYOB garden party back in May 2020 was a "work event".
"When I went into that garden to thank groups of staff on that day in May 2020...I believed implicitly that this was a work event. But Mr. Speaker, with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside and I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognized that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidelines, there would be millions of people who simply wouldn't see it that way."
This explanation elicited jeers from the opposition, including from Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who insisted that BoJo must resign. "Can't the prime minister see why the British public feels he was lying through his teeth?" Starmer said after laying out how BoJo's "evolving" story - first denial, then outrage, then - finally - an apology after video footage and other evidence emerged to prove that the PM attended the events.
In his defense, "I believe that the events in question were within the guidance and were within the rules...he should wait...I hope that he will wait until the facts are established and brought to this house."
"So we've got the PM attending Downing Street Parties, a clear breach of the rules. We've got the Prime Minister putting forth a series of ridiculous denials, which he knows are untrue. A clear breach of the ministerial code. That code says ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.
The party's over prime minister. The only question is will his Party kick him out...will the British public kick him out...or will the PM do the decent thing and resign?"
BoJo "humbly" responded that the opposition wait until the probe has concluded. After Starmer brought up a young woman who had partied in the Garden with BoJo on the same day her father, who died from COVID, had his death certificate signed.
"I sympathize deeply with Hannah and the millions who have suffered during this pandemic...we have been doing everything we can to protect her and her family...and it is because of the efforts of this government that we have the most tested population in Europe...we've been working to make sure our country has the most anitvirals in Europe...and its because of the efforts of this government that we have driven the fastest vaccine rollouts in europe...and one of the fastest in the world," BoJo said.
As we noted earlier, the UK is closest in the world to exiting the pandemic, according to one study.
Judging by the reactions on Twitter, the British public isn't buying BoJo's claims that this was a "work event".
Just a work event, folks. pic.twitter.com/Fok6vgKCr2— ForexLive (@ForexLive) January 12, 2022
Right now, British political analysts mostly believe that BoJo won't resign. And many believe that a Tory rebellion to unseat him is even less likely.
Readers can watch the entire PMQs session - one of the rowdier PMQs of BoJo's tenure - below: