Keir Starmer has called on Conservative MPs and ministers to “have the courage now to challenge” Boris Johnson, following several months in which the Prime Minister has been dogged by allegations of dishonesty.
Speaking while on a trip to Northumberland, the Labour leader warned Tory backbenchers and members of the government that they risk “degrading” themselves by sticking by the Prime Minister amid the latest accusations.
Claims emerged last week that between 40 and 50 people attended events where they were crammed together “cheek by jowl” in Downing Street, in what one source described as a “Covid nightmare”, while London was under tight restrictions.
The Electoral Commission also published the findings of its investigation into Johnson’s Downing Street residence refurbishment this week, throwing into doubt the Prime Minister’s previous statements on what he knew about the issue.
“Do I think that [Johnson] will resign? No, I don’t, because I don’t think he’s fit for office and therefore I think his party has to ask some questions here. But look, we’ve got lie after lie, dishonesty after dishonesty,” Starmer said.
“We’ve got a Prime Minister who says there wasn’t a party, now he’s investigating the party that he said didn’t exist. We’ve got the Cabinet Secretary investigating whether a party happened in the Prime Minister’s own building.
“[Johnson] could end that investigation now by admitting that it happened and getting the Cabinet Secretary back doing the work of the government.”
Johnson faced renewed allegations of dishonesty after footage emerged of senior Downing Street staffers joking about the party, featuring the Prime Minister’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton who remarked that it “was not socially distanced”.
“The question really is for Tory members of the cabinet, Tory MPs, to ask themselves: are they prepared to put up with this? He’s not fit for office. He’s not going to be fit for office,” the Labour leader told Sky News today.
“Are they prepared to go through the degrading of themselves and their party, to go out to the media, have to defend the indefensible for months to come? Or are they going to actually have the courage now to challenge him and say you’re not fit for office?”
Johnson confirmed in the latest coronavirus press conference on Tuesday that England will revert to ‘plan B’ restrictions due to the “remorseless logic of exponential growth” as applied to the spread of the Omicron variant.
MPs, including Conservatives, have accused Johnson of using ‘plan B’ as a “diversionary tactic” to deflect attention away from reports that the Covid rule-breaking party was held in Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas last year.
Following the November lockdown last year, each area across the country were placed by the government into varying ‘tiers’, of which there were initially three, determining what people were and were not allowed to do.
The Prime Minister placed London, which had the highest Covid case rates in the country, into tier three on December 16th. This meant people were banned from all indoor mixing except within their household bubbles.
According to the rules in place at the time, the only legally permissible way under the regulations for either of the reported Downing Street gatherings to have taken place was if it was “reasonably necessary for work”.
One source told The Mirror that there were “many social gatherings” in No 10 in the run-up to Christmas last year while the public faced restrictions, suggesting that there were “always parties” in the flat Boris Johnson shares with wife.
Johnson, during Prime Minister’s Questions last week, said that no Covid rules were broken but did not deny that the party had taken place on December 18th. Keir Starmer told parliament that “both of those things can’t be true”.
Following the leak of footage to ITV News of a mock press conference earlier this week, Stratton resigned from her role as COP26 adviser offering her “profound apologies” for her remarks in the leaked video. The spokesperson was recorded joking that the party “was not socially distanced”.
Wes Streeting confirmed this morning that Labour MPs will back the government in an upcoming vote on the introduction of tighter public health restrictions detailed under the government’s ‘plan B’ for combatting Covid this winter.
The Shadow Health Secretary’s comments followed reports that dozens of Tories are planning on abstaining or rebelling on the vote, prompting fears from ministers that they may have to rely on Labour to get the measures passed.
Two polls published today in the wake of the allegations have put Labour ahead of the Conservatives. YouGov has Labour up four points on last week on 37% with the Tories behind on 33%, down three points. The opposition is up one point on 40% and the Conservatives down two points on 34%, according to Survation.
“We’ve got a prime minister who says there wasn’t a party, now he’s investigating the party that he said didn’t exist.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says Boris Johnson no longer fit for office.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 10, 2021