UK's Johnson left reeling over Christmas party scandal

UK's Johnson left reeling over Christmas party scandal

Johnson is under pressure over claims that staff in his Downing Street office held a Christmas party last year.
Johnson is under pressure over claims that staff in his Downing Street office held a Christmas party last year.

LONDON: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday faced a political backlash for imposing new virus restrictions and public fury about whether a Downing Street Christmas party last year broke lockdown rules.

Members of Johnson's ruling Conservative party openly voiced opposition to his new guidance to work from home and the prospect of compulsory vaccine passports.

But criticism of the measures, seen as contradictory as he stopped short of limiting social contact over Christmas, was eclipsed by mounting anger at a scandal from last year.

On Wednesday, one of his senior media advisers resigned after video footage emerged showing aides joking about a party held at his office on Dec 18 last year.

At the time, there were limits on numbers allowed at social gatherings, including a ban on mixing between households, that forced millions to cancel their Christmas plans.

Johnson has announced an internal probe into the claims after a week of repeated denials that the party took place, and insisted he was told it did not breach the guidelines.

But a steady stream of claims have emerged of other social gatherings in the run-up to Christmas last year, including of a boozy gathering at Conservative Party headquarters.

Several snap polls indicated a majority of people now think Johnson should resign, as typically friendly newspapers turned their ire on the British leader.

"Do as I say... not as I Christmas do," read the front page of The Sun tabloid, calling the last two days of negative headlines "a horror show of historic proportions".

"Don't go to work, but do go to parties," The Daily Telegraph, which Johnson previously worked for as a columnist, said, mocking the new public health advice.

One columnist at the right-wing daily even asked if the saga signalled the "beginning of the end for Boris", two years after he won a landslide general election.

The Politico website quoted unnamed "prominent" Conservatives that Wednesday was Johnson's "worst day politically since becoming prime minister".

- 'One rule for him' -

There was one piece of good news for Johnson, however, as it was announced that his wife, Carrie, had given birth to the couple's second child early on Thursday.

The baby girl is Johnson's seventh child.

But on the streets of London, attention was on the scandal engulfing Johnson and his government.

"It appears that it's one rule for him or his elitist club in Downing Street... But if you're not in it then you have to abide by the rules like everyone else," Anne Davies told AFP.

The claims about Christmas parties while the public followed the rules come after several other instances of the government not abiding by its own guidelines.

In June, Matt Hancock resigned as health secretary after he broke social distancing rules he urged everyone to follow by being pictured in a steamy clinch with an aide.

The previous year, Johnson's former closest aide, Dominic Cummings, sparked fury by driving across the country while suffering Covid symptoms during the first lockdown.

The Sun said that taken together, "it amounts to a failure of leadership by the PM that cannot and must not continue".

Johnson was already under pressure after a botched attempt to change parliament's disciplinary rules, after a Tory MP was found to have carried out illegal lobbying of ministers.

Owen Paterson, who denied wrongdoing, promptly resigned, triggering a by-election in his constituency next week that will be seen as a key test of support for the Conservatives.

The Electoral Commission meanwhile on Thursday fined the Conservatives for failing to properly disclose a donation that was used to refurbish Johnson's Downing Street flat.

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