Updated: Mar 16, 2022
Dubbed “Partygate”, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest scandal marks the culmination of a career brimming with insidious antics, which could potentially herald its end (Heath 2022). Amid a damning report concerning the prime minister’s involvement in several social gatherings during strict pandemic lockdowns in 2020, Members of Parliament on both sides of the aisle are publicly calling for Johnson’s resignation (McGuinness 2022). After initially denying any knowledge of restrictions being violated, Johnson eventually admitted to having attended a party at Downing Street to which 100 people were invited (Peltier 2022). Immense public outrage has been provoked as the events in question were held by members of Johnson’s own staff, in violation of restrictions set by their own government (ibid.). At the time, the British public was scarcely allowed to hold family gatherings, even to see dying relatives (ibid.).
An inquiry led by senior civil servant Sue Gray has produced a damaging report on the government’s conduct concerning the issue, including condemnation of Downing Street’s culture of “excessive workplace drinking” (which may have encouraged the illegal parties) (Peltier 2022). Most notably, the report accuses Johnson’s government of “serious failures of leadership and judgment” and reveals that despite various staff members wanting to raise their concerns, they felt unable to do so (ibid.). However, the report did not directly implicate Boris Johnson; on January 25, 2022, the British police announced an investigation into several of the no. 10 gatherings, and requested Gray’s report withhold incriminating material pending their own investigation (ibid.). This redaction has been criticized as unnecessary and “disastrous” to a fair account of Johnson’s culpability, instead allowing the PM to “get away with it” as final judgments will be delayed until media attention on the issue has waned (Falconer 2022).
In the past week, Downing Street has attempted to divert attention away from the ordeal and towards other domestic and foreign affairs, such as Mr. Johnson’s dealings with Vladimir Putin concerning the escalating situation in Ukraine and the lifting of domestic coronavirus restrictions (Peltier 2022). Regardless of these distractions, however, the Conservative party’s approval ratings have plummeted in light of Partygate, with many deeming Johnson’s premiership as beyond repair (ibid.). While several Conservative Members of Parliament have submitted letters calling for Johnson’s resignation, even more owe Johnson their jobs following the Conservative party’s election win in 2019 (Heath 2022). Remarkably, however, one of these new MPs became the first Member to defect from the Conservatives to Labor in the last 15 years in response to the government’s misconduct (ibid.). A parliamentary vote of no confidence could be held once the threshold of 54 Conservative MPs delivering letters of no confidence is reached (Peltier 2022). At the time of writing, 12 have publicly done so (McGuinness 2022).
In reference to his propensity to emerge from scandals unscathed, Boris Johnson has been described by his predecessor David Cameron as “the albino greased piglet” (Le Conte 2022). However, months of scandal regarding Partygate have proven the ultimate test of British tolerance for Johnson’s controversial governance (ibid.). Critics have questioned why the British are suddenly “so shocked that their roguish prime minister would behave in exactly the way his long-standing image would lead an outsider to believe he’d behave” (Bonetti, in Le Conte 2022). Yasmeen Serhan of the Atlantic, notes that following years of political tumult concerning Brexit, “the coronavirus, however horrible, provided a moment of unity, a feeling that everyone was in the same boat. Especially in the beginning, it was like, ‘Alright guys, we’re just going to do this, we’re going to get on with it,’ and everyone just fell into line” (Le Conte 2022). The government’s betrayal of this national camaraderie and imposition of double standards are likely the real causes for growing resentment within the British population (ibid.).
Concerning Johnson’s transgressions, Conservative MP Andrew Murrison writes: “I doubt any of us backed him because we’d spotted a paragon of virtue. We were clear eyed about him then, we must own the consequences now” (Murrison 2022). According to Murrison, the central question left to the Conservatives is deciding whether Johnson will prove to be “an electoral asset or liability” in 2024 (ibid). Regardless, thanks to his delivery of Brexit and his notable election victory in 2019, Murrison contends that Johnson “will be entitled to leave head held high”, regardless of Partygate’s eventual outcome.
Despite bleak prospects for his premiership, Johnson told The Sun that he has no intention of resigning: “"My job is to get on with what the public elected ME to do–the best answer to any criticism is to deliver” (Cole 2022). Should Johnson’s trial by media (and public censure) fail to garner enough political traction, and thanks to the combination of “a convoluted parliamentary system, his success at delivering Brexit, and, above all, the lack of any strong alternative to his premiership”, Johnson’s premiership may yet survive (Heath 2022).
Written by Toyah Höher, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
Source: Sky News
Cole, Harry. 2022. “Boris Johnson Will Not Quit after Partygate and Vows to Win next
Election.” The Sun, February 2, 2022. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/17525872/
Falconer, Charles. 2022. “‘Greased Piglet’ Boris Johnson Could Evade Justice due to
the Met’s Disastrous Move | Charles Falconer.” The Guardian, January 29, 2022.
Heath, Ryan. (2022). “Boris Johnson Isn’t Donald Trump. But He Could Ride out His
Biggest Scandal Yet.” POLITICO, January 27, 2022.
Le Conte, Marie. 2022. “Partygate Paradox: Why Are the Brits so Obsessed with Boris
Johnson’s Parties?” POLITICO, January 31, 2022.https://www.politico.eu/article/
McGuinness, Alan. 2022. “Partygate: New Blow for Johnson as Third Tory MP in One
Day Submits No-Confidence Letter.” Sky News, February 3, 2022.
Murrison, Andrew. 2022. “‘Partygate’ May Be the Undoing of Johnson. But He
Delivered What His Party Needed | Andrew Murrison.” The Guardian, February 3,
Peltier, Elian. 2022. “Boris Johnson Faces Outcry after Report Paints Damning Picture of
Downing Street.” The New York Times, January 31, 2022.