Opinion

As resignation calls grow, jury out on Boris Johnson

British prime minister fights for his political life over lockdown party at Downing Street


Published : 13 Jan 2022 08:45 PM

Cladding, which was supposed to fire resistant, has been used to shield thousands of buildings up and down Britain. The Grenville fire tragedy of five years ago, where a high-rise building in Kensington borough went up in flames and killed 72 people, made it abundantly clear that the building material was substandard and a fire hazard.

And for the past five years, thousands of new homeowners up and down Britain, faced the very real prospect of going bankrupt either paying for its removal or having it removed from mid- and high-rise buildings.

It’s been a testy and thorny political issue that has been rumbling along ever since the Grenville tragedy. On Monday, Michael Gove, the right-hand man of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, detailed a plan that was supposed to solve the problem, firmly placing the onus on builders to put things right — or face very still penalties and be shut out of future government-funded help-to-buy schemes that are a cornerstone of the housing market in the UK.

Good news, you would have thought. Gove has a reputation of being a nuts-and-bolts type of minister, someone who is effective, can assess a problem and get things done. Good news is in short supply in the UK right now for Boris, and he’d take any win he can get.


You can bet that those who want to see him gone will be working 

towards that end now — and won’t be shy about sharing more 

details of other potential breaches. Yes, the game is afoot


But no sooner had the announcement of the cladding deal been made than the news cycle went up in flames, with the latest revelation that at least 30 staffers from Downing Street gathered in the garden of 10 Downing Street on May 2020 and held a drinks party.

It is but the latest in a long line of similar stories that have undermined the leadership of the Prime Minister and shaken people’s faith in his administration.

No, this one is different

For starters, the email invite was sent out by Johnson’s personal private secretary. And Johnson and his wife attended.

There are even email exchanges of people who were invited questioning the wisdom and optics of the gathering — even its legality.

But the drinks party went ahead. Yes, just one hour after Oliver Dowden, then the UK’s culture minister, stood at a lectern in Downing Street and reminded the UK pubic that it was ILLEGAL for MORE THAN TWO PEOPLE to meet OUTDOORS — and even then social distancing was required.

That was the advice on that hottest day so far of 2020. McDonalds restaurants opened drive-thrus in their first tentative bid to reopen from the months’ long shut down.

And records show that 363 people died as a result of Covid-19 that day while. Most died alone, unable to be comforted during their last gasps of life and the threshold with death. By that stage, the death toll from Covid stood at more than 35,000 across Britain, and countless thousands of households up and down the four nations of the United Kingdom were mourning the passing of loved one in very lonely cubicles or beds in overcrowded hospitals.

Party at 10 Downing Street 

In full swing now is a government investigation into what happened in the other reported gatherings of Downing Street staff during the lockdown. They partied which Britons mourned.

The Metropolitan Police has so far refused to look into the reports of the illegal gatherings. They say that are in contact with Downing Street regarding the 20 May drinks party — but no one expects any action to come of it. It is, as most Britons readily say now in a stinging rebuke of Johnson, one rule for Downing Street and one rule for everyone else.

On Tuesday, one senior former cabinet minister told the BBC that party members were fed up with the situation. “Boris says what he has to just to get through the day,” was the quote, which is pretty damning to say the least.

There was a hope that the New Year might be different, that Johnson might somehow find a way to get through the mess and lead the Conservatives into the local elections in early May. The way things are going, Johnson will be lucky to still lead the party and the nation by early February. Or he might make it through to those local elections in May.

The Conservatives have a ruthless streak when it comes of leaders who have lost the support of MPs — and certainly when they have lost the ability to look like a winner.

Two opinion polls released Tuesday in the wake of the latest breach, show that nearly two-thirds of voters think he should resign.

It’s the first time that pollster YouGov has found that more than half (65 per cent) think he should go.

Savanta ComRes also released the results of a snap poll suggesting that, by a margin of almost three to one, voters do not see Boris Johnson as an asset for his party. Even among people who voted Conservative in 2019, opinion is evenly divided as to whether or not he is an asset.

Two-thirds of voters (66 per cent) think he should resign over the latest revelations, the poll suggests, and that’s a 12-point increase on the percentage of people saying Johnson should resign when Savanta ComRes asked the same question last month, in the light of the original partygate revelations.

In Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is no fan of Boris, said that the latest revelations about Downing Street’s “serial” rule-breaking are “deeply angering and upsetting” to people who had made significant personal sacrifices to follow government guidance.

“It appears not just one isolated breach but serial breaches of guidance that people were following through painful sacrifices through this pandemic, and a prime minister who apparently is not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters,” Sturgeon said.

On Wednesday, before he was due to be cross-examined by the Labour Leader Sir Kier Starmer in parliament, Johnson came clean and apologised for attend that drinks gathering.

The wording of the statement was precise and read nothing like Johnson’s regular speech pattern. It’s a start, but seems far from enough to quell the uproar in the country. Or in parliament. Or in his party.

You can bet that those who want to see him gone will be working towards that end now — and won’t be shy about sharing more details of other potential breaches. Yes, the game is afoot.


Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News