London, UK, January 13 – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought for his political future on Thursday as his Tories plunged into open internal warfare after being forced to apologize for attending an evening of drunken containment.
The apparent violation of coronavirus restrictions angered the public, who were forced to obey the rules and prevented them from visiting sick and dying loved ones, or attending funerals.
Most cabinet members rallied around Johnson after his mea culpa, but support from some like Rishi Sunak, his powerful finance minister and potential successor, was noticeably lukewarm.
The Prime Minister himself went to the ground on Thursday, canceling a planned trip to northern England after a family member fell with Covid-19, in strict compliance with his government’s rules.
While expressing his “sincere apologies,” Johnson sparked the ridicule on Wednesday by claiming that he thought the May 2020 rally was a professional event.
He urged all parties to await the findings of an internal investigation.
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, joined at least four Tory backbench MPs in calling on Johnson to step down after the PM admitted to joining the party in his Downing Street garden in May 2020, when Britain was strictly closed.
“Unfortunately, I have to say his position is no longer tenable,” Ross told STV.
Cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg called Ross a “light figure” in the ruling party, prompting reprimands from other MPs and warnings that the upperclass Englishman supported the cause of independence of Scotland.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted Johnson had been “very, very sincere” in his apology, amid warnings that Tory MPs could rally for a vote of no confidence.
“He recognizes the anger, upset and frustration people feel over what they perceive to have happened at number 10. He recognizes this and takes responsibility,” Lewis told BBC radio.
– Labor force increases in polls –
But Lewis was forced to downplay reports Johnson told Ross and other Tories, after his apologies in the House of Commons, that he didn’t believe he did anything wrong.
Labor leader Keir Starmer joined other opposition leaders for the first time on Wednesday in demanding Johnson’s resignation.
The Prime Minister’s ratings in the polls have fallen since “partygate” allegations relating to the events of 2020 emerged last month.
A new poll by YouGov in The Times newspaper gave Labor a 10-point lead over the Tories, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six in 10 voters believe Johnson should resign. The survey was conducted among 1,666 adults across the UK.
Senior Labor MP Lisa Nandy said the Prime Minister would be likely to face further revelations, after Johnson previously insisted in Parliament that no Covid rule had been broken in 2020.
– “Horrified and traumatized again” –
Relatives left in mourning by Covid and unable to say their final farewells felt “appalled, horrified and traumatized again” by Johnson’s presence at the party, Nandy said on ITV, urging police to investigate.
The London Metropolitan Police did not rule out a criminal investigation into the party, which took place at a time when Britons were banned from socializing outdoors.
But for now, Johnson’s fate appears to be in the hands of senior official Sue Gray, whom he commissioned to review the May 2020 event and other Downing Street rallies that year.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak, who was visibly absent from the House of Commons on Wednesday, said Johnson was right to apologize and called for “patience” while awaiting Gray’s report.
Sunak is a likely candidate if Johnson is kicked out. Another, Foreign Minister Liz Truss, also took hours to provide public support, but said she was “100%” behind the Prime Minister.
Johnson’s official spokesperson insisted the cabinet was united in implementing the government’s post-Brexit and post-pandemic priorities.
“The Prime Minister respects the principles of public service,” he told reporters, noting Johnson had promised to release Gray’s report and then update Parliament.