U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fighting for his political life over revelations about his role in parties during strict lockdown, faces one of the most crucial weeks of his time in office — and one that will likely decide whether he remains in 10 Downing Street, or is forced to step down.
Johnson apologized earlier this month after it emerged that he and members of his Downing Street staff had broken lockdown rules — with Johnson attending a May 2020 “bring your own booze” party in the gardens of the prime minister’s residence. Johnson claimed he was only there briefly to greet staff and thought it was a work-related event.
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“Mr. Speaker I want to apologize, I know millions of people across the country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or do the things they love,” a somber Johnson said in the House of Commons.
Since then, more revelations have emerged, including that parties were held on the eve of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral — for which Downing Street has since apologized to Buckingham Palace. An inquiry by civil servant Sue Gray is believed now to be looking at approximately a dozen parties held during the pandemic.
Despite the apology, Johnson has continued to defend himself, saying he believed it to be a work event and that he was unaware that it was in breach of the lockdown rules.
The scandal has caused outrage across the country, with Brits who have missed funerals, or the chance to say goodbye to dying relatives and friends, venting their anger at the man whose government imposed those restrictions — only to then flout them himself.
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Additionally, it is leading to questions whether Johnson lied to the House of Commons in his initial statements on his behavior. Knowingly misleading the House is seen as a grave offense in the British parliament, and ministers who are found to have done so are expected to resign.
As more details have come out, the poll numbers for Johnson have been brutal, with polls also showing a double-digit lead for the opposition Labour Party over his Conservative Party — leading to more pressure for him to step down from members of his own party.
Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis addressed the House of Commons and told Johnson, “In the name of God, go.”
Separately, some Tory MPs have complained about bullying and intimidation from government whips to push members to back Johnson. William Wragg said that he intends to go to the police next week about the conduct. Meanwhile, Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour over the scandal.
Gray is expected to finish her inquiry into the revelations this coming week. Johnson’s survival rests in large part on what Gray’s report finds. It could either ease the pressure off Johnson, or it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
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Due to Johnson’s large majority in the Commons, he is unlikely to be ousted by the chamber as a whole, but if 54 members submit letters of no-confidence to the party’s 1922 committee, then it will trigger a vote on the matter among party members. Some lawmakers have already submitted letters, although it is not clear how many. Whether Johnson would survive that vote is also unclear, but even if he did, his position would be weakened, and he may step down anyway.
Should Johnson resign or be ousted by his own party, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are seen as two of the most likely candidates to replace him.
Fox News’ Peter Aitken and The Associated Press contributed to this report.