UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to fight for his political life after admitting last week that he attended a Downing Street garden party in May 2020, when the nation was under strict shutdown rules over Covid. His latest announcement was to lift all Covid restrictions from next week.
Amid the protests and criticisms initiated by “partygate,” which are on the rise, two moments that increased the pressure on Johnson were during Wednesday’s parliamentary session. First, MP Christian Wakeford announced he was leaving the Conservative Party and joining the Labour Party. Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis accused Johnson of not assuming his responsibilities and told him, “In the name of God, go away!”
A group of Tory MPs claims that enough letters may be written to force his dismissal and trigger a leadership contest in the Party.
According to the Associated Press, Conservative rules state that 54 of the 360 Tory MPs must write letters of censure to the chairman of the Party’s 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership challenge.
Defecting MP Wakeford on Tuesday became the seventh Tory to reveal publicly that he had submitted a letter to hold the vote against Johnson.
One MP said there are reportedly about 20 letters, “some sent, some in draft,” of the 54 needed. Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen, a supporter of a change, said he thought the 54-letter threshold would be reached “this week.”
Meanwhile, the prime minister on Wednesday sought to turn the tide of talks during the session by announcing the end of all restrictions in England passed against Omicron, effective Jan. 26, which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks.
He also sought to defend himself against claims by his former adviser Dominic Cummings, who said Johnson lied to Parliament when he said he believed the Downing Street garden party was a work event. “Nobody said to me that this was an event that is against the rules,” Johnson told Britain’s Sky News.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray who is investigating the late-night “wine Friday” parties, would have the report by next week, and Johnson urged his Party to withhold judgment until then.
Jake Berry, a Johnson ally, voiced his support, saying, “Now is the time to get behind the prime minister.” At the same time, Jonathan Gullis urged colleagues who had sent letters to withdraw them.
While James Heappey, minister for the Armed Forces, said he too was angry about what had happened. Still, he added that “the prime minister has stood up at the dispatch box and set out his version of events and apologized profusely to the British public.”
“I choose to believe what the prime minister has said. But I know that that’s not good enough for many of my constituents,” he said.