Johnson bats away criticism as party allegations escalate
Bloomberg February 2, 2022
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Boris Johnson dismissed criticism about the conduct of his government after further reports of parties in Downing Street during lockdown prompted renewed pressure within his ruling Conservative Party for him to resign.
The U.K. prime minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday that it was "more vital than ever" for the government "to get on with the job" -- pointing to a long-awaited plan to reduce economic inequality, and his efforts to help ease tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
But he faced fresh turmoil on Wednesday when Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons defense committee, joined rebels in submitting a letter to the influential 1922 committee calling for a vote of no-confidence in Johnson's leadership. Hours later, Anthony Mangnall, a Tory MP elected in 2019, also said he had submitted a letter.
The relentless flow of allegations of rule-breaking gatherings, dubbed "Partygate" by the U.K. media, has damaged Johnson's standing within his Conservative Party, and the danger for the prime minister is that enough colleagues are also persuaded to submit letters. If the total reaches 54 -- or 15% of the party's MPs -- it will trigger a no-confidence vote in the premier.
So far about a dozen Tories have publicly either called for Johnson to go or said they've written a letter. Tory MPs Andrew Mitchell, a former cabinet minister, and Peter Aldous also this week called on him to quit. But many others have said they're reserving judgment until a police inquiry into 12 gatherings reaches its conclusion.
Johnson faced multiple questions from opposition MPs at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday over fresh allegations of parties during the coronavirus lockdown. The Telegraph reported that he was seen heading up to his flat on Nov. 13, 2020, when a gathering was held which is now being investigated by the police. The Guardian said he'd attended another boozy send-off for staff in January 2021.
Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party's Westminster leader, branded Johnson a "dangerous distraction at home and a running joke on the international stage." The premier said he could not comment on alleged gatherings while the Metropolitan Police was investigating.
The police probe into potential criminal offenses -- which could take weeks or even months --has delayed the publication of the full findings of a civil service inquiry by the senior official Sue Gray. Johnson's official spokesman Max Blain told reporters in a regular briefing Wednesday the prime minister had not yet been contacted by police for interview.
Gray's final report and the police investigation will provide moments of danger for the prime minister and ensure the lockdown parties remain in the public eye.
In an attempt to shift the narrative, Johnson's government on Wednesday fleshed out his vision to "level up" Britain -- a key catchphrase in the Conservative Party's election-winning campaign of 2019 -- and said it would move many decision-making powers away from London and seek to boost pay and productivity in the U.K.'s most deprived regions.
Key measures in the plan include creating more local mayors, a commitment to boost public investment outside the south-east of England and regenerate town centers, according to a statement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.