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Johnson faces Parliament over party scandal

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced damning headlines yesterday as he prepared to answer MPs’ questions over new claims he and his top officials breached COVID restrictions by holding a party.

The embattled leader has been silent since an email was leaked late Monday that appeared to show a senior official inviting more than 100 colleagues to an outdoor event in May 2020 and encouraging them to “bring your own drinks”.

Johnson and his wife Carrie allegedly attended the gathering in the garden of his Downing Street residence and office, according to anonymous witnesses quoted in the media. It was held in the midst of the country’s first strict lockdown, when the government was ordering ordinary members of the public not to meet, even outdoors, and tight restrictions were in place on social mixing, including at funerals.

The claims are the latest in a string of similar accusations which emerged last month about Downing Street parties held during subsequent lockdowns in the run-up to Christmas in 2020.

Widespread public anger over the revelations has caused poll ratings for both Johnson and his ruling Conservatives to plummet and sparked calls for his resignation from opposition politicians.

The 57-year-old refused to comment as the latest scandal began to unfold on Monday, but he will be quizzed by Labour leader Keir Starmer and other lawmakers at weekly parliamentary questions. He has previously denied knowing whether any rules were broken in Downing Street, as he faced weeks of excoriating headlines before Christmas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, at Downing Street in London. PHOTO: AFP

But the latest accusations appear to directly contradict those claims.

Even the front pages of newspapers that normally back Johnson and the Tories were damning.

“Is the party over for PM?” asked the best-selling Daily Mail, while the Daily Telegraph’s headline said: “Johnson losing Tory support”.

“It’s my party and I’ll lie low if I want to,” mocked The Sun tabloid.

Johnson, elected by a landslide in December 2019, had hoped to start the new year afresh, leaving behind the previous revelations of lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties and claims of cronyism and corruption.

The prior allegations prompted him to appoint Sue Gray, another senior civil servant, to investigate. Her probe has now been widened to include the latest accusations.

Meanwhile, London’s Metropolitan Police have said they have been in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 2020 gathering, raising the possibility of a more serious, criminal probe.