The walls are closing in on Boris Johnson, writes Terina Hine
Downing Street, the Prime Minister, his staff, his wife and other government departments are under police investigation for breaking the law. The Met Police may be a little late to this particular party, but that they have arrived at this point at all is devastating for the government and disastrous for the Prime Minister. And now, despite attempts to block its publication, Sue Gray’s report into partygate will be published later this week.
Boris Johnson’s claims that there were no parties at No 10 and that no rules were broken, were nothing more than lies; we all heard these lies spoken by the Prime Minister as he addressed Parliament in a clear breach of the ministerial code. He must go.
Johnson’s arch nemesis and former accomplice, Dominic Cummings, appears responsible for the plot to undo Johnson’s premiership, but ultimately the PM has no one to blame but himself, with perhaps a little help from his wife.
The drip, drip, drip of partygate has been a well-orchestrated campaign intended to undermine the PM, but it has done far more than that. As each day passes the party of government becomes ever more tarnished - as soon as Downing Street comes up for air another story is leaked, while tales of endless parties give way to horror stories of Tory corruption and racism, illuminated by lurid wallpaper, cake and champagne.
Details of Boris’ own birthday bash were leaked to ITV on Monday. The party was allegedly arranged by Carrie Johnson herself, and with a nod to symmetry was held in the cabinet room, attended by 30 people and included the decorator Lulu Lytle, borrowed from an earlier No 10 scandal.
The day after Cummings gave evidence to the Gray investigation - in writing so that details could neither be twisted by Johnson nor omitted from the report - the Met Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, confirmed that the police have launched their own official investigation. In a statement Dick said she had been provided with enough evidence by the Cabinet Office investigation team, led by Sue Gray, to investigate “a number of events that took place in Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years”. The PM now faces the most precarious period in his career.
According to the Daily Telegraph the police will investigate 8 out of the 10 (or 17 or 19) parties reported to date. No doubt the numerical discrepancy hangs on the increasingly opaque definition of “a party”, but as all social events were banned at the time, such nuances are somewhat irrelevant. And to be honest, it’s hard not to describe 30 people gathered together in one room to eat cake and M&S nibbles, while singing Happy Birthday, as anything other than a birthday party.
The only hope Johnson has for survival is to hold on to power long enough for new events to distract, for people to forget and for public anger fade. But his chances of this diminished as Tuesday progressed.
At the beginning of the day it appeared that the report into partygate by civil servant Sue Gray would remain unpublished - or at least the incriminating parts would - until after the police investigation had concluded. No 10 was unsurprisingly keen to delay publication; the police keen not to be implicated in a cover-up. Discussions between the Met and Cabinet Office into the publication concluded the report would be released this week.
Delaying Gray’s report would have provided No 10 with breathing space. The police investigation could take months, and in the meantime ministers answering questions with “I cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation” would hardly keep the media engaged. Tory MPs would transfer their holding game from the publication of Gray’s report to the conclusion of the police investigation.
But now Johnson faces the double-whammy of a police investigation and the publication of a report that has uncovered enough evidence of nefarious lockdown activities in and around No 10 for them to be referred to the police. The walls are closing in.
Coming out of the pandemic the country has massive challenges - a cost of living crisis, the situation in Ukraine, Brexit, an NHS emergency, supply chain issues - yet the Tories are distracted, the PM directionless, devoid of authority, and afraid to do anything that might upset even a handful of his own MPs. With Cummings feeding the media, MPs from the right objecting to the government’s latest tax plans, a minister resigning over government corruption, more and more Tory backbenchers are losing patience for the ‘vote winner’ who has now passed his sell-by date.
The humiliation of a police investigation, in which the Prime Minister and his Downing Street operation are central, must surely be too much even for the most loyal Johnson supporter? How long will it be before Tory MPs snap and put us all out of our misery?
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