‘Partygate’: Why UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be forced to step down

As the partygate scandal implicating Boris Johnson unravelled, reports say that Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, is a front-runner for the post.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
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Boris Johnson battles further charges around the ‘partygate’ scandal after his former top aide turned fierce critic alleged that the British Prime Minister had lied to Parliament about a gathering he attended during lockdown. Dominic Cummings was a key official at 10 Downing Street in May 2020 at the time of a garden party for which Johnson apologised to the House of Commons last week, when he said he believed implicitly that it was a work event.

However, Cummings, his Chief Strategy Adviser at the time, took to his online blog to claim that his boss was fully aware that it was in fact a party and that he would "swear under oath that he had even warned him against it and wanted it cancelled. "I'm saying categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn't a work event because frankly, I can't imagine why it would have gone ahead or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules, Johnson told reporters during a tour of a hospital in north London.

"My memory is going out into the garden for about 25 minutes, which I implicitly thought was a work event, and talking to staff, thanking staff. I then went back to my office and continued my work," he said. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy who is widely touted as a frontrunner to step in as the UK's first Indian-origin Prime Minister should Johnson be made to resign over the scandal, spoke out firmly on Tuesday, January 18, in favour of the embattled leader when asked on camera by Sky News if he believed the premier was telling the truth.

“Of course I do. The Prime Minister set out his understanding of this matter in Parliament last week and I refer you to his words. As you know, Sue Gray is conducting an inquiry into this matter and I fully support the Prime Minister's request for patience while that inquiry concludes,” Sunak said.

Earlier, Johnson's office insisted it was "untrue" to say Johnson was "warned about the event" and reiterated the line being taken by government ministers that a Cabinet Office inquiry into the issue should be allowed to conclude and determine all the facts.

"As he said earlier, he believed implicitly that this was a work event. He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes," a No 10 Downing Street spokesperson said.

However, Cummings who famously left Downing Street in November 2020 with a box in hand indicative of an unceremonious exit after a much-publicised power struggle within the top ranks of the Prime Minister's Office, has disputed this account from Johnson's office. "PM was told about the invite, he knew it was a drinks party, he lied to Parliament," Cummings wrote on Twitter, posting a link to the latest entry of his blog.

The May 20, 2020 event is one in a string of reported gatherings at Downing Street and other UK government departments in apparent breach of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020 and 2021, all of which are now the subject of an internal investigation led by top civil servant Sue Gray.

Her report is expected as soon as this week unless further allegations force a delay into next week.

In the Substack blog which Cummings has used often to attack his former boss, he said he warned Johnson's Principal Private Secretary (PPS) Martin Reynolds that an email invite he sent to Downing Street staff for the drinks "broke the rules" and also raised his concerns directly with the UK PM at the time.

"Amid discussion over the future of the Cabinet Secretary and PPS himself, which had been going on for days, I said to the PM something like: 'Martin's invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I'm talking about, you've got to grip this madhouse'. The PM waved it aside," he wrote.

Johnson is already facing growing calls to resign and these fresh allegations will only intensify the anti-Johnson lobby within his own Conservative Party, besides providing the Opposition with more fodder for its attacks on the government.

Tory insiders have estimated about 20 Members of Parliament have submitted letters of no confidence in the PM to the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs. A formal vote of no confidence will be held if 54 letters are submitted.

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