Frank Augstein / AP / AP
LONDON – British government ministers expressed varying degrees of enthusiasm on Thursday in support of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, rejecting demands to resign to attend a garden party during the country’s first coronavirus blockade.
Many other conservatives held their tongues and waited for the crisis threatening Johnson’s prime minister to subside or intensify.
Johnson apologized in the House of Commons Wednesday for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of the prime minister’s office and residence on Downing Street in May 2020. About 100 employees were invited by the Prime Minister’s High Adviser to what was charged. as a “socially distant drink” action.
At the time, the British were prohibited by law from meeting more than one person outside their home as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Millions of people were cut off from family and friends and even banned from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Johnson said he understood public “rage,” but stopped before pleading guilty and said he saw the meeting as a business event to thank employees for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson called on people to await the findings of a senior government official, Sue Gray, over several alleged parties of government employees during the pandemic. Gray, a public service veteran with a reputation as a direct shooter, is expected to report by the end of the month.
Johnson spent Thursday in Downing Street. The planned visit to the coronavirus vaccination center was canceled after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus, the prime minister’s office said.
Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis said Johnson’s apology was “very, very sincere” – but added that the prime minister did not believe he would do anything wrong.
“The prime minister outlined that he did not believe he had done anything out of the way,” Lewis told Sky News. “If you look at what the investigation finds out, people will be able to take their own views at that moment.”
Gray has no authority to punish the officials, and Johnson has not said what he would do if she found out she was to blame.
Secretary of State Liz Truss – often referred to as Johnson’s possible successor – said on Twitter: “I stand behind the Prime Minister 100% as he moves our country forward.”
Finance chief Rishi Sunak, another potential rival for the top post, was muted. He stated on Twitter that “the Prime Minister has apologized correctly and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray conducts his inquiry.” Sunak was remarkably absent from the House of Commons during Johnson’s statement on Wednesday; was 200 miles away visiting South West England.
Opposition politicians say Johnson should resign for attending the party and for his previous denial of any violations.
Many conservatives fear that the “partygate” scandal could be a turning point for a leader who has weathered many other riots over his spending and moral judgment.
Some have joined opposition calls for Johnson to leave. Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said Johnson’s position was “no longer sustainable.” Lawmaker Roger Gale has called the prime minister a “dead man who walks.”
If he does not resign, Johnson could be deposed by a vote of no confidence in party lawmakers, which would be triggered if 15% of conservative lawmakers wrote letters demanding it. It is not clear how many letters have already been sent.
Labor Home Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy said the police should investigate, not just a government official.
“It is strange that the police did not launch any wider investigation given the amount of evidence of what is happening in Downing Street,” she said.
Nandy said there was “immense” public anger over the party’s revelations.
“Based on what I see flowing into my inbox this morning, I don’t think the prime minister should be sure he will survive,” she said.
Many conservatives have been waiting for the response to the crisis to develop in the coming days.
Conservative lawmaker Philip Dunne said the allegations were “very serious.”
“I think the prime minister apologized quite rightly yesterday, and I think it’s right that we wait for what Sue Gray’s investigation shows,” he told Times Radio. “Then people will have to bear the consequences of what happens.”