by Jill Lawless | The Associated Press
LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for attending a Garden party during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown but rejected calls to resign for breaking rules imposed by his own government on the nation.
The apology, which stopped acknowledging wrongdoing, was an attempt to placate the public and politicians’ anger over Johnson’s allegations after he and his staff repeatedly flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing on the ban.
The “Partygate” scandal could become a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms, with some members of Johnson’s governing Conservative Party saying he should leave for breaking the rules.
Douglas Ross, leader of the party’s Scottish wing, said Johnson’s “position is no longer valid,” and “I do not think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.”
Trying to defuse the uproar, Johnson admitted for the first time on Wednesday that he went to a May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said he thanked employees for their efforts during the pandemic. For this it was considered a work program.
“I want to apologize,” Johnson told lawmakers during his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons. “After all, I should have sent everyone back in.”
An invitation to “bring your own alcohol” to a “socially-distancing drink” gathering was emailed to nearly 100 government employees by a senior prime minister aide – although Johnson’s office says he did not receive it.
Opponents and allies alike have sought to come clean about Johnson’s party after Britons were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. . The gathering came as millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting relatives who died in hospitals.
Johnson said he understood the anger of those who have made “extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months … at the idea that people in Downing Street were not abiding by those rules” – although he did not explicitly acknowledge Said that they had broken a rule and said that the gathering may have been “technically” within the guidelines.
Johnson has previously said that he and his staff followed the rules at all times.
Members of the COVID-19 Bereaved family group for Justice said Johnson’s apology brought them little comfort.
Hannah Brady, whose father died in May 2020, accused Johnson of “adding salt to the wounds” of those who have already lost so much to the pandemic.
“If sanctions are needed to protect lives in the future, people will just laugh at that,” she said. “He has no moral authority and will live his life.”
Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said the British public thought Johnson was “lying with his teeth.”
“He was eventually forced to admit what everyone knew was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street when the whole country was locked down,” Starmer said. “Is he going to do a good job now and resign?”
Johnson instead urged people to wait for the conclusion of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government employees. Gray, a public service veteran with a reputation as a straight-shooter, is expected to report by the end of the month.
Johnson did not say what he would do if Gray discovered it was his fault.
Such a finding would increase the chances of disturbed conservatives calling for a no-confidence vote in their leader. Under party rules, such a vote can happen when 15% of Conservative MPs demand it. If it is passed, the party will elect a new leader, who will take over as Prime Minister.
Wednesday’s admission comes amid a growing list of troubles for Johnson, who is already facing allegations that his Conservative government has scuttled Downing Street by hosting garden celebrations, Christmas get-togethers and office quiz nights, among other times. flouting the rules of the pandemic, both of which are prime ministers. home and his office. Despite allegations of financial and moral misconduct against himself and his government, he continues to face unease.
A group of opposition lawmakers accused Johnson of breaking the law, lying and defaming his office.
Johnson may shrug off opposition criticism – as he did during previous scandals – because his Conservatives hold a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. More worrying for the prime minister is that many members of his own party are concerned about his decisions and leadership.
Conservatives chose Johnson as leader in 2019 for his spirited manner and popular touch, despite serial allegations of rule-bending and dishonesty that followed him during his twin careers as journalist and politician. The election proved right when he led the party to a major electoral victory in December that year.
But discontent over persistent pandemic restrictions is eroding support within the party, which some conservatives see as harsh and growing list scandals. Now the question is whether “Partygate” could be a far-fetched scam.
The Conservatives have a history of ousting leaders if they become a liability – and a recent surprise defeat in a special election for a district the party has held for more than a century.
Veteran Conservative legislator Christopher Chop said Johnson’s apology helped reassure the party.
“I think this apology has taken some time, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
But another senior Conservative MP, Roger Gale, echoed Scottish leader Ross.
“Politically the prime minister is walking a dead man,” he said.