Partygate: Calls for UK PM to resign as ministers rally in support
London: At least two more members of Parliament from the UK’s ruling Conservative Party spoke out on Thursday to call for party leader Boris Johnson to resign as British Prime Minister in the wake of a damaging rule-breaking culture within the government exposed by the partygate inquiry.
Johnson is desperately trying to move on from the scandal of COVID lockdown law-breaking parties at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office by reiterating an earlier apology in Parliament, following the publication of a scathing report by top civil servant Sue Gray on Wednesday.
However, it has not only renewed Opposition calls for him to step down but also resulted in more backbench MPs from within Johnson’s own party to break cover and demand his resignation.
Tory MPs John Baron and David Simmonds joined backbench colleague Julian Sturdy in saying it was time for “new leadership”, taking the total of a minor backbench rebellion to around 17 – well short of the requisite 54 MPs required to trigger a leadership election by the party’s powerful 1922 Committee.
Alongside, government ministers have been lining up to defend their leader, with even the timing of UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s GBP 15-billion Cost of Living Crisis Support package announcement in Parliament on Thursday being linked with an attempt to deflect attention away from the scandal.
Downing Street’s new chief of staff Steve Barclay told the BBC it was only a “small minority” of people working in the building who had broken the rules and that “significant changes” had already been brought into the structure of the prime ministerial office, including bringing him in as staff in charge.
“There is a difference between the work exemption that applied that enabled people to work very long hours in Downing Street – and we’re talking about the behaviour of a small minority of people, often when the Prime Minister wasn’t in the building or late at night,” the Tory MP said.
But Opposition Labour’s Indian-origin shadow levelling-up secretary, Lisa Nandy, accused the UK PM of “passing off responsibility” for partygate to junior staff.
“He’s not sorry that he did it, he’s sorry that he was caught,” she said, as the Opposition continues to demand his resignation.
Johnson has sought to defend his actions to say he genuinely viewed the drinks events investigated a part of his leadership duties and to keep staff morale high during a tough pandemic period.
He stated being “humbled” by the findings and having learned the lessons, now felt “an even greater weight of responsibility to deliver on the priorities of the British people, and lead our country through some of the most challenging times in recent history”.
He issued a separate apology to security and cleaning staff after Gray’s report found they were the target of some of the bad drunken behaviour.
“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable,” reads the report by the senior civil servant, who notes that steps have since been taken to address the problems with alcoholism within the government departments.
“I also made a recommendation that steps should be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace. Since then guidance has been issued to all Government Departments,” she said.
“Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of Government. The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this,” her report added.
Johnson still faces an inquiry by the House of Commons’ Privileges Committee about whether he knowingly lied to MPs when he had told Parliament that no rules were broken as the partygate scandal first emerged. He has insisted that when he said that the COVID rules and guidance had been followed “at all times”, it was what he believed to be true.
Under UK government guidelines, ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to resign.