London, Jan 26 (PTI) Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he won’t resign amidst growing pressure on him to quit after the so-called “partygate” scandal of alleged lockdown breaches at 10 Downing Street and other government offices during 2020-2021.
On Tuesday, London’s Metropolitan Police announced it is investigating reported gatherings at Downing Street and Whitehall during Covid-19 lockdowns. Prime Minister Johnson has said that he welcomes the Scotland Yard investigation to give public clarity.
There was an earlier expectation that the police probe could delay the internal Cabinet Office inquiry being conducted by top civil servant Sue Gray, but ministers indicated on Wednesday that the report is ready for release soon.
The focus then turned to whether the findings will be released in full, a decision to be made by Downing Street, and if it will be ahead of the crucial Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Instead, the PMQs went on to be dominated by Johnson’s vehement rejections of Opposition calls to resign.
Answering with a simple “no” when Labour leader Keir Starmer accused him of breaching the ministerial code and asked if he would now resign, Johnson insisted that the government had “delivered on Brexit [and] delivered the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe”. He went on to reiterate earlier assertions that the findings of the internal inquiry will be published in due course.
“When I receive it, I will do exactly what I said. In the meantime, what the people of this country want to hear is what we’re doing to tackle the issues that matter to all of us, fixing the cost-of-living, helping people across the country by lifting the living wage, by helping people with their fuel costs,” said Johnson, in an attempt to move the focus away from the partygate scandal.
However, Starmer and other Opposition MPs kept up the pressure, repeatedly demanding he step down as Prime Minister.
“The police say the evidence meets the test, frankly the public have made up their minds, they know he’s not fit for the job, and that’s what really matters here,” said Starmer, with reference to the Metropolitan Police inquiry into potential breaches of COVID lockdown rules.
“A few weeks ago I commissioned an independent inquiry into a series of events in Downing Street, in the Cabinet Office as well as some other Whitehall departments that may have constituted potential breaches of the COVID regulations,” Johnson, 57, said in a parliamentary statement on Tuesday.
“That process has quite properly involved sharing information continuously with the Metropolitan Police, so I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters,” he said.
A Downing Street spokesperson reiterated that the UK PM did not believe he had broken the law. Any breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules carry a fixed penalty notice, or a fine, rather than a legal process of a trial. Therefore, the publication of the Gray report is not seen as risking legal prejudice. Johnson has previously promised to make the report public as soon as possible after he receives it and to make a statement to the Commons.
The Opposition Labour and Scottish National Party (SNP) have asked the government for assurances they will get advance notice on the report’s publication to be able to fully scrutinise it.
“The whole of the report should be published in full – both the findings and the workings. The worry is that there’s so little trust in the British government at the moment from most of the public, that if there are too many redactions people will say this is a cover-up,” Labour MP Chris Bryant told the BBC.
Meanwhile, calls for Johnson to resign continue to gather momentum from the Opposition benches as well as within his own Conservative Party. Most Tories have indicated that they are waiting for the Gray report before deciding whether to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, potentially triggering a leadership contest. At least 54 Tory MPs must write to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, to trigger such a vote.
On Tuesday, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed that her officers were looking into potential breaches of COVID laws at a number of events in government buildings since 2020. Such investigations are carried out in cases of the “most serious and flagrant breach” of coronavirus regulations.
There are a string of gatherings that are under the scanner, including a garden party on May 20, 2020, and a birthday cake event for Johnson’s 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 – both held within the premises of 10 Downing Street. The rules in force at the time imposed a strict ban on social gatherings with anyone outside your own household. PTI AK IND AKJ IND
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Source: The Print