London, 26 January 2022 (PA Media/dpa/MIA) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected calls on Wednesday that he resign, while the rest of London eagerly awaited the results of a civil servant’s report into the Partygate affair.
Johnson insisted he was “getting on with the job,” although he acknowledged there were people who “want me out of the way” for a variety of reasons.
Sue Gray is expected to submit the findings of her inquiry into parties at Downing Street – the prime minister’s offices and residence – and Whitehall – London’s main government quarter – during the coronavirus lockdowns.
The alleged parties have enraged Britons, many of whom skipped all manner of parties and social gatherings during the last two years precisely because leaders like Johnson told them such sacrifice was necessary to stave off the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson appeared at Prime Minister’s Questions with his future in the balance. The report is expected to be handed to No 10 on Wednesday, although it had not been submitted by the time Johnson stood up to face members of Parliament.
An indication of how damaging the report could be for the government came when Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick announced a police inquiry was being carried out, based in part on evidence obtained by the Gray investigation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested Johnson had misled Parliament about Downing Street parties, something which would normally require a minister to resign.
Asked if he would now quit, the prime minister said: “No.
Starmer said: “We now have the shameful spectacle of a prime minister of the United Kingdom being subject to a police investigation, unable to lead the country, incapable of doing the right thing and every day his Cabinet fail to speak out they become more and more complicit.”
He challenged the prime minister to publish the full Gray investigation report as he receives it – Johnson said he would “do exactly what I said,” although there has been speculation the version published could be redacted or edited.
The prime minister is also committed to giving a Commons statement in response to the Gray report.
Starmer said: “Whatever he says in his statement later today or tomorrow won’t change the facts. Isn’t this a prime minister and a government that have shown nothing but contempt for the decency, honesty and respect that define this country?”
Johnson replied: “Of course he wants me out of the way – he does, and of course I don’t deny, for all sorts of reasons, many people may want me out of the way.”
But he said Starmer wanted him out because “he knows that this government can be trusted to deliver”
He added: “We’re – and in particular I – am getting on with the job.”
The issue of what form the Gray report will be published in appears to be a source of tension between the inquiry team and No 10.
Sources close to the Gray inquiry expect it to be published in full, although ultimately it is a matter for Johnson to decide.
Downing Street said it is the “intention” to publish the report in the format that Johnson receives it in.
“It is simply a reflection of the fact that we have not received the findings and don’t know its format, that’s why it remains our intention to publish it as received,” the prime minister’s official spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that he was not aware of the police asking to interview the prime minister in relation to the Met inquiry, but “as a rule I’m not going to be getting into individuals who may or may not be involved.”
Labour could use parliamentary procedures in an attempt to force the publication of the full Gray report if Johnson does not release it.
That could take the form of a “humble address,” effectively a message to the queen demanding the publication of papers.
The steady stream of allegations about alleged breaches of lockdown rules have undermined the prime minister, and many of his critics are waiting for Gray’s report before deciding whether or not to submit formal letters saying they have no confidence in his leadership.
If Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, receives 54 letters – equivalent to 15 per cent of the members of Johnson‘s Conservative, or Tory, party in Parliament – a vote on Johnson‘s leadership would follow.
Robert Halfon, Tory chairperson of the Commons Education Committee, said Johnson needs to “reset” his administration.
“I don’t need Sue Gray or the police to tell me or my constituents of Harlow that what’s gone on has been pretty awful,” he told Times Radio. “We all feel let down and disappointed.”