Monday, 29th May 2023

Lurid new ‘partygate’ details imperil Johnson comeback

Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson has made no secret of his hopes for a dramatic political comeback. But the enduring "partygate" scandal threatens that, as graphic new revelations emerge.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 5, 2022 shows Former Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts during the Platinum Pageant in London on June 5, 2022 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee celebrations. – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face a Conservative Party confidence vote on his leadership on June 6, 2022, after 54 of his Tory MPs triggered a contest following a string of scandals. “The threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party has been exceeded,” Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs said. (Photo by Leon Neal / POOL / AFP)

Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson has made no secret of his hopes for a dramatic political comeback. But the enduring “partygate” scandal threatens that, as graphic new revelations emerge.

Contradicting his later denials that any lockdown rules were broken, Johnson allegedly joked at a boozy 10 Downing Street event in November 2020 that it was “the most unsocially distanced party in the UK”.

Staff shredded documents when civil service and police investigations loomed, and some had sex at one riotous party the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, according to aides interviewed for an ITV podcast.

“As the disgraced former prime minister plots his comeback, he reminds us all yet again why he’s totally unfit for office,” Angela Rayner, the opposition Labour party’s deputy leader, responded.

“While people were unable to say goodbye to loved ones or mourn with their families, he was breaking his own rules with reckless abandon and then lying to the British people.”

The ITV podcast came out this week just as a parliamentary committee is due to open an investigation that could see Johnson suspended or even expelled from the House of Commons.

The “privileges” committee is looking into whether he lied to the Commons, starting in December 2021 after one damning video emerged, when he told MPs that “the rules were followed at all times”.

“We all watched it live and we were just gobsmacked,” one Downing Street source who attended parties told ITV.

“We were all just shocked that he would even deny it. He was there. We were there. We were all there together.”

Johnson — along with eventual successor Rishi Sunak — was fined by London police for another Downing Street event in June 2020 that violated his own government’s rules on social distancing.

Sunak’s spokesman said on Thursday: “At all times staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information and cooperate with the investigation.”

‘Final nail’
After his fellow Conservative MPs tired of the non-stop scandal and forced him to resign, Johnson tried to stage a sensational return in October when Liz Truss was herself forced out of Number 10.

But after a hurried dash back from a Caribbean holiday and a fevered weekend of campaigning, he bowed out of the race, allowing Sunak to take over.

One Tory MP called the ITV report “the final nail in his self-created comeback coffin”, according to the Independent newspaper.

But Johnson and acolytes such as former minister Nadine Dorries are famously thick-skinned, and the ex-premier has been burnishing his legacy and continued relevance via a series of well-paid speeches.

“Most sane people know they (Conservative MPs) were completely wrong. Nothing has gone right for us since the day they removed Boris Johnson,” Dorries told TalkTV on Tuesday.

Johnson gave an impassioned defence of his record at London’s Tory-oriented Carlton Club Tuesday for the unveiling of a portrait of him — which showed a thinner, energetic-looking figure.

The unveiling was meant to be the centrepiece of what the Sunday Times said was the start of a comeback campaign ahead of UK local elections in May, which opinion polls predict will turn out badly for Sunak.

Other senior Johnson loyalists have founded a new group, dubbed the Conservative Democratic Organisation, insisting that party members get a say over Sunak’s leadership.

But a former minister told the Independent: “This will make the privileges committee inquiry more difficult for Boris -– if this is stood up, he clearly knew what was going on.

“I worry that some of his supporters are oblivious to reality and may try causing unnecessary disruption by still pushing him.”

A spokesman for Johnson did not deny that he said the “most unsocially distanced party” line.

But he stressed that the then-leader had “worked constantly” to ensure the government did all it could to protect lives and jobs during the pandemic.

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