14 Jan 2022, 17:24

New 'partygate' revelations heap more pressure on UK PM

LONDON, Jan 14, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was
rocked Friday by new claims his staff held lockdown-breaching parties in
Downing Street on the eve of the funeral for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth
II's late husband.

   The revelations up the pressure on Johnson, who is fighting for his
political future amid public outrage at the slew of revelations about similar
alleged rule-breaking while the rest of the country followed guidelines -- at
personal cost.

   Johnson, 57, has apologised for attending one event in May 2020 but the
latest revelation -- from his normally supportive former employer the Daily
Telegraph and invoking the Queen in mourning -- takes the scandal to another

   Several dozen staff at his office held two separate boozy bashes on April
16, 2021, when the country was under strict Covid rules and just hours before
Philip's funeral, which was limited to just 30 guests due to Covid rules.

   That resulted in the stark image of the Queen, 95, sitting alone in a
church pew mourning her husband of 73 years.

   Johnson did not attend the newly disclosed April 16 parties last year and
was at his official country residence Chequers, according to the Telegraph.

   All three main opposition parties have demanded Johnson's resignation,
with some of his own Conservative MPs joining the calls for him to quit after
he apologised Wednesday for attending one of the events in May 2020.

   - 'Moral vacuum' -

   Andrew Bridgen, a previously loyal supporter, meanwhile became the latest
Tory MP to say he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson to a
powerful committee of Conservative MPs.

   If 15 percent or 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament do the same,
it will trigger an internal leadership contest -- if Johnson does not quit of
his own accord.

   Bridgen, a staunch supporter of Brexit that swept Johnson to power in
2019, wrote in the Telegraph that there was currently "a moral vacuum at the
heart of our government".

   Most cabinet members have rallied around Johnson but the backing from
potential successors such as powerful finance minister Rishi Sunak has been
distinctly lukewarm.

   Johnson has urged all sides to await the findings of an internal inquiry,
which is now set to include the latest claims.

   Johnson's former director of communications, James Slack, on Friday
apologised for the "anger and hurt" his April 16 leaving party had caused.

   Slack, now deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun tabloid, said he took "full
responsibility" and was "deeply sorry".

   The party is reported to have merged with another event marking the
departure of one of Johnson's personal photographers, with alcohol and
dancing to music late into the night.

   One staffer reportedly went to a nearby supermarket with a suitcase to
fill it with wine bottles, the newspaper said.

   Government guidance at the time outlawed socialising except with your
household or support bubble. That saw thousands of families unable to visit
loved ones sick or dying with Covid, or even attend their funerals.

   - 'Disdain' -

   Security minister Damian Hinds said he was "shocked" by the latest claims
but urged people to wait for the outcome of the investigation.

   Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour party, and
others seized on the revelations, arguing they showed a culture of double
standards at the heart of government.

   "The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with
personal trauma and sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest,"
Rayner said.

   "I have no words for the culture and behaviours at Number 10 and the buck
stops with the PM," she added.

   Fran Hall, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said:
"For the people running the country to do it and then lie about it, shows a
complete disdain for the general public."

   Johnson's poll ratings have slumped since "partygate" allegations emerged
last month.

   One new poll by YouGov in The Times newspaper gave Labour a 10-point lead
over the Tories, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six out of 10 voters
believe Johnson should resign.

   Meanwhile London's Metropolitan Police said Thursday they would await the
findings of the government's internal inquiry before deciding whether to
launch their own criminal probe.



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