On Dec. 18 last, 594 people died from Covid 19 in the United Kingdom. That was three days into a new national lockdown announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a set of rules that meant that families of those who had died could not attend hospital to say a final farewell.
Families up and down Britain had to cancel Christmas gatherings, and many never saw their loved ones again as the second wave of the pandemic unfolded.
Gatherings of more than one household indoors or six people were also deemed to be unsafe and would result in prosecution or fines.
But as the nation was coming to grips with a Christmas unlike any other experienced since the darkest days of the Second World War, there was indeed a gathering taking place.
A weekend opinion poll put the Labour party a full
3 per cent ahead of the Conservatives. That’s
a gap that’s bound to grow too
Behind the closed door of 10 Downing Street, there was a party underway. Games and drinks, snacks and chatter. Staffers from the Prime Minister’s Office were there, journalists too.
The exact number isn’t yet known, but the accounts that are emerging suggested that there were several scores there — maybe 50 people, maybe more.
For the past seven days, the office of the Prime Minister, indeed Johnson himself, has suggested that the party did in fact meet the social distancing guidelines in place at the time, it wasn’t a party, and there was no breach of rules.
That, the opposition Labour says, is poppycock — that’s my choice of words — others far stronger have been used, and the PM is playing fast and loose with the truth.
Late last week Johnson didn’t outright deny the party when he spoke in the House of Commons. On two other occasions on camera, he has said there was no party.
When hell broke loose
But that all changed Tuesday evening when broadcaster ITV showed an exclusive clip — recorded in the government’s own studio located inside No 10, where Johnson’s spokeswoman laughed off the party as she prepared in a mock interview as to how she might have to explain the party if it became known.
The clip was recorded on Dec. 22, hour days after the party, and the tape showed several very senior officials in Johnson’s office laughing as they practised trying to explain away the party.
The reaction to the clip has been furious, with senior government cabinet ministers speaking to media organisations “off the record”, expressing disgust.
Read more: Keeping the United Kingdom united
Labour were far more scathing, saying that Johnson had to apologise. But apologise for what, exactly?
Being less than honest with parliament? Or for hosting the party in the first instance? How about an apology for bad judgement?
The problem is that if Johnson does indeed issue any sort of apology, no matter how meek or half-hearted, it is but the very latest in a long list of incidents.
As it is, the Supreme Court in the UK reversed the advice he gave Queen Elizabeth early in his term when he advised her to prorogue — suspend — parliament to limit debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Bill.
There is the small matter of signing that Withdrawal Bill, saying that it would not result in Northern Ireland being treated any differently than the rest of England, Scotland and Wales as a customs line was drawn down the Irish Sea.And yes, there was the time too when Johnson said UK could ignore its international treaty obligations as it suited by contravening the deals it signed.
If you believe that the issue of who was at a Christmas party and whether it constituted a serious breach of Covid rules does not matter, then wait at least for the London Metropolitan Police to conclude its investigation into the matter.
That investigation by Scotland Yard has certainly been given new impetus if not new evidence by the airing of the tape of jocular aides practising untruths should the Dec. 18 gathering come to light.
On Tuesday at the House of Commons, the report of a Foreign Office whistle-blower was discussed in great detail by a committee of MPs. He details how the government failed to properly deal with the estimated 125,000 Afghans who were at risk for having worked and helped British Forces over two decades with the imminent coming to power of the Taliban.
Read more: George VI crowned King of the United Kingdom
He was alone at the weekend as the crisis was unfolding, the Foreign Minister was on holidays, so too the top civil servant. Some 5,000 emails were unopened — emails from desperate Afghans who helped the British — frantically trying to get assistance.
Out of the estimated 125,000 in need of help, the Brits managed to evacuate 15,000. That was a feat Johnson said on Tuesday was one of the greatest moments in military history. And he denied that he has authorised the use of a military plane to evacuate some 200 dogs for a British rescue charity. The political agenda of these past weeks have been dominated by missteps, misspeaks and mistakes — most of which are directly related to 10 Downing Street. These latest salvoes over parties and repatriation won’t help smooth things anytime soon. But how long more can it last?
A weekend opinion poll put the Labour party a full 3 per cent ahead of the Conservatives. That’s a gap that’s bound to grow too.
Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News