Come clean or double down? Johnson faces the music over partygate

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Boris Johnson should resign. That is the feeling of the majority of the public, according to snap polling released yesterday. Following the latest revelations of a BYOB Downing Street party in May 2020, Savanta Comres found that 66% of people feel the Prime Minister should step down from his role while YouGov put the figure at 56%. Both found that a large chunk of the 2019 Tory voter base (42% and 33% respectively) also think Johnson should throw in the towel. And, according to Savanta Comres, the proportion who think the Prime Minister should resign is 12 points higher than in its snap poll in the wake of allegations of the Downing Street Christmas parties in December.

Further details of the party are emerging. Two sources told The Times that Johnson attended the Covid rule-breaking bash, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. Other allegations are also surfacing: the BBC reported last night that senior Downing Street political staff had to intervene during the first half of 2021 to prevent other events, such as leaving parties, going ahead; and two sources told The Independent that No 10 workers were told by a senior member of staff that it would be a “good idea” to “clean up” their phones by removing any information that could suggest that lockdown parties took place.

Johnson woke up to a truly awful set of headlines this morning: “Is the party over for the PM?” The Daily Mail asks: “Johnson losing Tory support,” warns The Telegraph; “Say sorry or doom us all, ministers tell Johnson,” reads The Times. He is also under pressure from Tory colleagues. One told the BBC: “We should get rid of him…. We should own the situation. We are the Tory party. We are not delivering good governance.” Another MP said it is “Goodnight Vienna“. According to BBC Newsnight’s sourcesletters have been going into the 1922 committee – letters from 15% of the parliamentary Tory Party would trigger a leadership contest (the threshold is now 54 MPs, since Anne Marie Morris has had the whip removed for voting in favour of Labour’s VAT cut motion yesterday).

Johnson will have to face the music today. He is due in parliament at midday for Prime Minister’s Questions and rumours are circulating that he will make a statement on partygate just before. None of the options available to the Prime Minister are good. He can either double down with some sort of excuse (perhaps we will hear that he and his staff were conducting an experiment into Covid transmission at parties) or come clean and apologise. The flimsy defence put up so far – that he could not possibly confirm whether or not he attended a party without the conclusion of an official inquiry – will surely provide no cover. Keir Starmer is out of isolation. He has six questions and plenty of ammunition.

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