Pressure is mounting on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, summoned to explain himself after the release of a compromising video where collaborators joke about a Christmas party supposedly organized in Downing Street last year, despite anti-Covid restrictions.
For the past week, Boris Johnson has been accused by the British press of having attended two parties in December 2020 at Downing Street, when it was strictly forbidden in most of the country to be indoors.
Heavily criticized, the British Prime Minister apologized on Wednesday, while his advisor resigned. “I wholeheartedly apologize for the offense that (this video) has caused across the country and I apologize for the impression it gives”, he said during the weekly question-and-answer session in Parliament. Saying to himself “mad“, he reaffirmed that he had “been insured several times” since the beginning of the affair that“there had been no party” and that’“no rule” had not been violated.
As some MPs called for his resignation, the Tory leader announced an internal investigation by Britain’s top civil servant, Simon Case, and promised “consequences” for those who have not followed the rules.
Johnson’s advisor resigns
The video, broadcast by ITV News, shows the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton, along with other advisers, preparing answers to hypothetical questions from journalists on December 22 about an alleged Christmas party in Downing Street four days earlier. This video has now been viewed by millions of people.
The 41-year-old ex-journalist, who has since become the government spokesperson for COP26, resigned Wednesday, in tears, saying she would regret “all his life” his comments. In the video, a colleague asks her, posing as a journalist, if there was a party, to which she laughs. “I’m back home” before kicking in touch.
In the tone of the joke, Allegra Stratton then specifies that “this imaginary party was a business meeting and there was no social distancing”. When many Britons were denied the opportunity to see their loved ones at Christmas last year, this “Christmas party” would have gathered about forty people.
“I understand the anger across the country to see the staff at 10 (Downing Street) seem to take the restrictions lightly, I understand how infuriating it must be.”, conceded Boris Johnson.
No investigation planned “at this stage”
In the early evening, London police said they would not open an investigation “at this stage”, citing the lack of evidence and its “policy not to retrospectively investigate violations” anti-Covid rules.
This case still undermines the government, already implicated in the past for other violations of anti-Covid restrictions. Two polls say Britons overwhelmingly in favor of Boris Johnson resignation. “The Prime Minister spent the week telling the public that there had been no party”, denounced Labor opposition leader Keir Starmer in parliament, saying he was “caught red-handed”. And to continue: “Millions of people now think he took them for fools.”
Even within the Conservative Party, anger is brewing. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross says the executive must say “why it was authorized when it was totally against the directives”.
These revelations embarrass the government all the more as Boris Johnson had to announce Wednesday a tightening of restrictions in order to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, including the return to telework and the introduction of the vaccine passport in some premises.
One of the countries in Europe most affected by the Covid
The United Kingdom, one of the countries in Europe most affected by the pandemic with almost 146,000 deaths, now has more than 45,000 daily infections. A total of 131 new cases of the Omicron variant were reported on Wednesday.
Faced with this assessment, the jovial tone used in the video does not pass, a year to the day after the launch of the vaccination campaign in the United Kingdom. “It is heartbreaking and shameful to hear Boris Johnson’s team joke about breaking the rules they have made”, lamented in a statement an association of families who lost loved ones during the pandemic.
For Matthew Taylor, who heads a confederation of public health organizations, the revelations are a “morale boost” caregivers.