‘Partygate’ probe may give Johnson no choice but to go

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologizing to MPs for the for the "partygate" fine at the House of Commons, in London, on April 19, 2022. (JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT/ AFP)

The long-awaited independent report into lockdown regulation breaches at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street residence is so critical of his involvement in the so-called Partygate affair that senior government officials said he will have no choice but to step down as leader of the country when it comes out, reported The Times newspaper.

In December, the top civil servant Simon Case relinquished control of the inquiry into social gatherings after it emerged that one of the events had taken place in his own office.

Boris Johnson's supporters have frequently defended him by saying that any judgment would be inappropriate until high-ranking official Sue Gray's report is published, and it is still not yet clear when that will be. But an unnamed official told The Times that its findings are "damning" for Johnson

The job was handed to another high-ranking official, Sue Gray, but her report's findings will not be made public until a police inquiry into the same incidents is complete. Last week, a third inquiry, into whether Johnson misled Parliament over the rule-breaking, was announced.

Since Gray was tasked with the inquiry, Johnson's supporters have frequently defended him by saying that any judgment would be inappropriate until her report is published, and it is still not yet clear when that will be. But an unnamed official told The Times that its findings are "damning" for Johnson.

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"Sue's report is excoriating. It will make things incredibly difficult for the prime minister," the official said. "There's an immense amount of pressure on her-her report could be enough to end him. No official has ever been in a position like this before."

Johnson is known to have attended at least six of 12 Downing Street gatherings being looked at by the Metropolitan Police, and has already been served with a fixed penalty notice over a get-together for his 56th birthday in June 2020, which happened at a time when people were unable to say goodbye to loved ones or attend funerals because of pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said his party could not just "pass over" the fact that Johnson, as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, had been fined for breaking the law.

"They have been found to have broken the law, the criminal law at that," Starmer said. "No other prime minister in the history of our country has ever been found to have broken the law in office before."

Partygate dominated British politics toward the end of last year, with Johnson facing heavy criticism from within the Conservative Party, before the Russia-Ukraine conflict took priority.

But with local elections coming up, which will also serve as a measure of the government's popularity, a poor showing by the Conservatives could encourage many f Johnson's critics to rediscover their voices.

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Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden, however, has rejected the suggestion that Johnson should go.

julian@mail.chinadailyuk.com