Boris Johnson batted away calls from opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer to resign over allegations of rule-breaking parties at Downing Street during lockdown.
Johnson told the House of Commons he couldn’t comment on the matter while it’s still under investigation, and reiterated a promise to publish senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report in full once he’s received it. The exact timing of that has been thrown into disarray by the surprise announcement on Tuesday of a separate probe by the Metropolitan Police.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said Wednesday that Downing Street had not yet been given the report but vowed to publish it “as swiftly as possible.”
Several Conservative MPs told Bloomberg they would wait for the police findings — rather than Gray’s — before deciding whether to call for Johnson’s resignation. Some believe the outcry over alleged partying is overblown, when the focus should be on issues including tension with Russia and the cost of living.
Johnson faced repeated calls to quit from the opposition benches during his weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions, but he insisted the government was focused on its domestic agenda and international obligations.
Labour leader Keir Starmer warned that if Johnson was found to have misled Parliament over the parties, “he must resign.” He pointed out the premier had told the Commons on Dec. 1 last year that “all guidance was followed completely” in Number 10, and on Dec. 8 that he had been “repeatedly assured” there was no Christmas party in 2020.
Johnson dismissed Starmer’s concerns, saying: “He’s a lawyer, not a leader.” But Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said his constituents believed the prime minister had lied. “I would prefer to be led by a lawyer than a liar: will he now resign?” he asked.
“This government is going to get on with the job and deliver for the people of this country,” Johnson replied.
Anger and frustration have ramped up within the ruling Conservative Party over recent reports of the prime minister attending a birthday party and a “bring your own booze” gathering at a time when most Britons were banned from such events by Covid-19 regulations brought in by the premier’s government. Poll ratings for the Conservatives have plummeted, prompting some Tories to publicly call on Johnson to go.
For now, Johnson has managed to keep a lid on the growing rebellion. The prime minister would face a vote on his leadership if 54 Tory MPs, or 15% of the total, submit letters calling for him to step down to a key committee. He would then need over 50% of Tory MPs to back him in a secret ballot. If he lost such a vote, a leadership contest to replace him would get under way.