The lies are catching up to BYOB Boris and his position is becomes increasingly untenable, writes Terina Hine
How much trouble is Boris Johnson in? At the end of 2021 when the first stories of No 10 parties were leaked, the PM saw his personal approval ratings plummet. But in true Whitehall fashion he set up an inquiry, and with the help of the Christmas break, hoped the media and public would get bored and move on.
These latest allegations make that highly unlikely. Johnson is kept in post because he is seen as a vote winner. Not so much now. According to Opinium, more people believe the moon landings were faked than believe Boris Johnson is telling the truth about the capital’s lockdown party hotspot.
Johnson’s defence over previous allegations was to pretend he knew nothing of what was going on downstairs in his own house - it is a big house - then to give assurances that no Covid rules were broken - after all what looks and smells like a party is often a work meeting, right? But this time he may find such denials a tad more tricky.
The email leaked to ITV News makes clear this was a party organised by the PM’s closest aide, further leaks suggest that 40 members of staff were in attendance, and accuse Johnson and his wife of joining in the festivities.
The email, inviting 100 members of staff to the drinks gathering, was sent from the PM’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds. It said, “After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No. 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
This BYOB soirée took place during the first and strictest lockdown, on May 20, 2020, a day when 328 people in the UK died of Covid-19. It took place at a time when the rest of the country was banned from meeting more than one other person outdoors - and then two metres apart - were attending funerals on zoom, cancelling weddings and were unable to visit dying relatives.
The incendiary email went to 100 different members of No10 staff, including the PM’s advisors, speechwriters, and door staff. Apparently some civil servants were surprised by the email, perhaps thought it a little stupid to break the law quite so openly, in black and white?
“Is this for real?” asked one invitee, another wrote, “Um. Why is Martin encouraging a mass gathering in the garden?” Yet not one saw fit to report the matter to the police - it was after all an illegal event - with offenders liable to fines of up to £3,600. Incredibly it has taken 20 months for this leak to reach the media.
Let us not forget that over 2,000 ordinary people were prosecuted for breaches of lockdown rules, including holding parties, in London alone. But the Met police have until now refused to investigate No10; today they are “in contact” with the cabinet office.
In the meantime the PM and his mates are hiding behind civil servant Sue Gray’s partygate investigation. A police investigation would surely end Johnson’s premiership, regardless of Gray’s findings.
Senior Tories are not happy, one disgruntled member briefed Telegraph journalists today that it’s “curtains for him [Johnson]- whether on the issue itself or a collapse of confidence in the Parliamentary party.”
Another front bench Tory told the Guardian that “there’s no explantation” for these parties, and no way for the PM to distance himself from the mess. The only hope would be "if the public has stopped caring.” There is little chance of this. Polls are looking bad for the Tories and for Johnson.
Opinium’s final poll of 2021 recorded the lowest ever ratings for Johnson - Partygate accelerated the decline in poll numbers for both the party and its leader - they will have nosedived further now.
So what happens next? No doubt Martin Reynolds will resign - how could he not? Will that be enough to take the pressure away from Johnson? Unlikely. Tory donors are getting anxious, one giving Johnson an ultimatum to “sort it out or step aside”. MPs and the party faithful fear they will all be brought down with him.
Today there was an Urgent Question in Parliament - Johnson didn’t even bother to show up, and the government benches were near empty as Tory MPs stayed away unable/unwilling to defend the indefensible. The PM has no distractions to hide behind, there is no more breaks. It looks as if the Bring Your Own Bottle cost Johnson more than even he bargained for.
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