U.K. PM Johnson faces calls to resign over COVID lockdown garden party


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Wednesday brings the time-honored tradition of “Prime Minister’s Question Time” in the British Parliament, when the U.K. Prime Minister must stand before his fellow elected lawmakers and answer their questions. It’s weekly political theater that normally generates a few headlines, but this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has some very serious questions to answer.

Opposition Leader Kier Starmer is sure to ask, for instance, why Johnson’s right-hand man invited around 100 people to the PM’s official residence, Number 10 Downing Street, for a “bring your own booze” garden party in May of 2020, when Britons were under strict coronavirus lockdown measures and such gatherings were illegal.

The rules in England were clear enough during that lockdown: No indoor mixing of households whatsoever, and outdoors, people were permitted to meet only one member of another household, provided social distancing was maintained. The invitation purportedly emailed from Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to as many as 100 people, which has been seen by the BBC and other major U.K. news outlets, did say the outdoor gathering would be socially distanced, but clearly more than two people from two different households were expected.

The BBC said two sources who attended the event confirmed that Johnson and his wife were both there. If so, they were among the roughly two dozen people who broke the government’s own rules – legally binding rules — while the rest of the country was prohibited from even visiting family members in hospitals or attending funerals for loved ones killed by COVID-19.

More than 24 hours after the invitation and claims that Johnson attended the party surfaced, he was still refusing to comment on them, saying with a trademark smirk that he couldn’t possibly because the party in his own backyard was under formal investigation, along with other gatherings allegedly held in violation of lockdown rules by his staff.

That deflection was unlikely to survive Question Time on Wednesday, as calls for Johnson’s resignation grew louder on the opposition benches of Parliament and his fellow Conservative lawmakers increasingly made it clear that if the allegations were confirmed, the prime minister’s position would be untenable.

If you feel like you’ve already heard this story, that’s because Johnson has already had to defend his government from allegations that he and senior aides broke their own rules — at least twice.


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First it emerged that in March 2020, Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, drove for hours with his wife and kids to visit family in Northern England and visited a tourist hotspot in the region in violation of lockdown rules. Despite an uproar, Johnson declined to sack Cummings, who then quit.

Then, in December 2021, it came out that senior No. 10 Downing Street staffers had held a “business meeting” that seemed to be more of a Christmas party a year earlier — again, during lockdown.

Nobody was fired for that transgression either and Johnson, insisting that he was unaware of the gathering (which took place in his house and which he reportedly attended), told Parliament that he understood “how infuriating it would be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules.”

He, too, was “furious,” he ensured the frustrated nation.


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But when asked this week about the invite to a boozy garden party that he himself is said to have attended, the prime minister has appeared anything but furious. His smiling refusals to comment have not gone down well.

Opposition parties were demanding his resignation before the Wednesday parliamentary session kicked off, and a growing chorus of the PM’s Conservative party allies had made it clear that confirmation of the claims would be impossible for Johnson to defend.

“How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t!” Conservative Parliamentarian Christian Wakeford said in a tweet. “It’s embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it’s already low.”

“Listening to colleagues across the house, there is horror — people are horrified at what appears to have happened,” Baroness Altmann, a former Conservative government minister and lifetime member of the House of Lords, told the BBC’s Newsnight program on Tuesday. “What seems to have happened is utterly indefensible, and we cannot have a country where the leadership believes it can make rules for others and break them itself.”

If Johnson fails on Wednesday to convince Parliament that what “appears to have happened” did, in fact, not happen, then there will be huge pressure on the prime minister to resign.

Under U.K. law, if he does decide to bow out, Johnson’s Conservative party — based on its victory in the last national elections — would have to pick a new leader internally to assume the premiership. There would be demands from opposition lawmakers, however, for the government to call a new election, to let the nation’s voters issue their own verdict.

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