UK Prime Minister Johnson faces crisis as nation responds to organized government parties during COVID shutdowns

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a crisis in his country and government as revelations of secret parties with administration officials during COVID-19 lockdown rules continue to spread to the public.

Reports of a 2020 Christmas party erupted last week when The Daily Mirror reported that between 40 and 50 Johnson staff have gathered at least twice for celebrations while the rest of the country has observed strict government-imposed lockdown protocols. A source who claimed to have knowledge of the party called it a “Covid nightmare”.

UK news channel ITV earlier this week reinforced that report when he released a leaked behind-the-scenes video of a rehearsal of a government press conference, in which officials joked about a “fictitious party” allegedly held on December 18 of Last year. The alleged second party took place on November 27 to dismiss a coworker.

In this photo released by the UK Parliament, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, December 8, 2021. (Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament via AP)

“This fictitious party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced,” then press secretary Allegra Stratton told a small group of reporters, joking “I came home.” and “It was just cheese and wine”.

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Corn the bbc previously reported that a party was held at the time – just two days after the Johnson administration banned most indoor gatherings of two or more people. The government’s alleged Christmas party included “several dozen” people. Johnson himself is not accused of attending either party.

An anti-Tory protester holds a sign with a picture of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words "Now Partygate" against the backdrop by the Houses of Parliament, London, Wednesday, December 8, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday ordered an investigation and said he was "mad" after a leaked video showed senior members of its staff joking about hosting a Christmas party violating the lockdown.  (AP Photo / Matt Dunham)

An anti-Conservative protester holds a sign with an image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words “Now Partygate” against the backdrop of the House of Parliament, London, Wednesday, December 8, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday ordered a investigation and said he was “furious” after a leaked video showed members of his staff joking about hosting a Christmas party violating the lockdown. (AP Photo / Matt Dunham)

Opposition Leader Kier Starmer of the Labor Party used the revelation to severely criticize the ruling party, saying the Prime Minister should be “ashamed”.

“Millions of people now think that the Prime Minister thought they were fools and that they were lied to. They are right, aren’t they?” Starmer asked Johnson during the Prime Minister’s weekly question and answer session.

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Johnson said he was “furious” to see the clip and apologized “wholeheartedly for the offense it has caused across the country.”

“I apologize for the impression this gives,” Johnson said in the House of Commons. Johnson said he had order Britain’s top official, Simon Case, to investigate and anyone who broke the rules would be penalized.

FILE - UK COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton attends the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Video leak shows staff from the Prime Minister's office British Minister Boris Johnson joking about hosting a Christmas party violating the lockdown last year is fueling allegations that government officials flouted the coronavirus rules they imposed on everyone.  A video released late Tuesday, December 7, 2021 by broadcaster ITV showed then-press secretary Allegra Stratton appearing to be joking about an illicit party at the Prime Minister's Office in Downing Street.  (Adrian Dennis / Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE – UK COP26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton attends the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Video leak shows staff from the Prime Minister’s office British Minister Boris Johnson joking about hosting a Christmas party violating the lockdown last year is fueling allegations that government officials flouted the coronavirus rules they imposed on everyone. A video released late Tuesday, December 7, 2021 by broadcaster ITV showed then-press secretary Allegra Stratton appearing to be joking about an illicit party at the Prime Minister’s Office in Downing Street. (Adrian Dennis / Pool Photo via AP, File)

But reports were quick to involve Johnson in the rallies, saying his staff helped organize the party, which included wine, food, games and an exchange of gifts.

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The public outcry quickly backfired on Johnson: people demanded answers and expressed their frustration in creative ways, like a poem in the London Underground titled “Downing Street December” which mocked the party for “one rule for them and one for me”. A Facebook event for a Christmas “rave” at 10 Downing Street brought together 170,000 “attendees” and 231,000 “interested”, The Express reported.

In this photo released by the UK Parliament, UK Labor Leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament via AP)

In this photo released by the UK Parliament, UK Labor Leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament via AP)

Johnson has already been pressured from parts of his party over reports the country will resume lockdown this winter amid further criticism of how Johnson has handled corruption issues and his party crushing defeats in the recent local by-elections which saw the Conservatives lose six of the seven seats up for grabs.

A dozen party ministers wrote letters of no confidence in November, weeks before news of parties defying the lockdown stoked public anger.

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Senior Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said “the responsibility ends at the top” and called on Johnson to provide definitive answers regarding the parties.

According to party rules, a leadership race is triggered if 15% of current Conservative MPs write a letter to the committee chair asking for one, according to The independent.

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In a call between Tory Bolton West MP Chris Green and a Manchester radio show, Green declined to respond directly if he had lost faith in the PM. Instead, he awkwardly stopped and finally said, “I think the silence speaks volumes.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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