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Boris Johnson faces ‘lockdown party’ hangover

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LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday faced a furious backlash over new claims of a breach of coronavirus restrictions by his team on top of a slew of recent scandals.

London’s Metropolitan Police said they were in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 2020 gathering in the garden of Johnson’s Downing Street residence and office, raising the possibility of a more serious, criminal probe.

More than 100 people reportedly received an emailed invitation to the drinks party, at which guests, allegedly including Johnson and his wife Carrie, were encouraged to “bring your own booze”.

At the time, the government was ordering ordinary members of the public not to meet, even outdoors, and tight restrictions were in place on social mixing, including at funerals.

“It truly is beyond belief that while the rest of the country was in lockdown, Johnson and his staff felt it was acceptable to have a party,” Rivka Gottlieb, of the Covid-19 Bereaved Fa­m­ilies for Justice group, told Sky News.

British media and social networks were filled with recollections from people who said they stuck to the rules, even as family and friends were sick or dying from Covid and fury at the apparent double standards.

Police at the time fined those breaching the rules, and had the option to prosecute repeat or egregious offenders.

The main opposition Labour party’s leader Keir Starmer accused Johnson of “lying to the British public” while deputy leader Angela Rayner said he was dodging questions that went to the heart of his “honour and integrity”.

Johnson, elected by a landslide in December 2019, had hoped to start the new year afresh, leaving behind previous revelations of other lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street in 2020, and claims of cronyism and corruption.

The prime minister’s official spokesman refused to comment but said the senior civil servant who sent the May invitation, Martin Reynolds, remained in post and retained Johnson’s confidence.

Previous claims of Downing Street parties prompted Johnson to appoint Sue Gray, another senior civil servant, to investigate. Her probe has now been widened to include the latest allegations.

“It will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action tak­en,” minister Michael Ellis told MPs.

But Ellis said “the prime minister is going nowhere”, as MPs called for him to quit or be forced out, and two new snap opinion polls suggested a majority of the public believed he should step down.

Jonathan Evans, head of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, which advises ministers on ethics, said the government — repeatedly under fire for the high Covid death rate — was failing to lead by example.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022

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