Two of Boris Johnson’s closest aides quit on Thursday and his finance minister slammed him for a remark he made about the main opposition leader, putting more pressure on the British prime minister amid growing calls for his resignation.
Mr Johnson’s premiership is facing a growing crisis following anger over a series of alcohol-fueled parties held at his office and Downing Street residence during the coronavirus lockdowns, a scandal which followed a series of other missteps
The latest controversy erupted when, in an angry exchange in Parliament on Monday, Mr Johnson accused Labor leader Keir Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, one of Britain’s worst sex offenders, while that he was Director of Public Prosecutions.
The false claim, which Mr Starmer said amounted to Mr Johnson ‘repeating the conspiracy theories of violent fascists’, angered not just opponents but also some members of his own party.
Mr Johnson declined to apologize but backed down from Thursday’s comments. However, this was not enough to prevent Munir Mirza, his chief policy officer who had worked with him for 14 years, from quitting his job and also drew criticism from Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Finance Minister of Mr Johnson.
Asked if the Prime Minister should have apologised, Mr Sunak, seen by many as the leading candidate to replace Mr Johnson if he were to be kicked out, said: ‘To be honest, I don’t wouldn’t have said, and I’m glad the Prime Minister clarified what he said.
Mr. Savile, a famous television and radio host, was never prosecuted despite several police investigations and warnings about his conduct. After his death in 2011 at the age of 84, it was revealed that he had abused hundreds of victims, the youngest of whom was just 8 years old.
Mr Starmer, who ran the Crown Prosecution Service at a time when Mr Savile was under investigation, had no direct involvement in the case but later apologized for the failings.
In interviews on Thursday, Mr Johnson tried to walk back his initial comments, which drew scorn not only from opponents but also from some members of his own Conservative party.
“I want to be very clear about this because a lot of people are very hot under the collar,” Mr Johnson told broadcasters.
“I’m not talking about the personal record of the Leader of the Opposition when he was… DPP and I fully understand that he has nothing personally to do with those decisions.”
But Ms Mirza said there was no fair or reasonable basis for her original claim.
“It wasn’t the usual cut and push of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrific case of child sexual abuse,” The Spectator magazine said, quoting Ms Mirza in a letter to Mr Johnson.
“I hope you will find the strength within yourself to apologize for a serious error in judgment made under enormous pressure. … It is not too late for you but, I am sorry to say, it is too late. late for me.
Mr Johnson said he was sorry to lose Ms Mirza but dismissed her assessment that her Starmer comments were inappropriate. “Well, I don’t agree with that,” he told 5 News.
Compounding Mr Johnson’s woes, his communications director Jack Doyle, considered close to him, also quit government on Thursday. However, the Daily Mail reported that his departure was unrelated to Ms Mirza’s resignation.
Mr Johnson is trying to deal with the gravest threat to his leadership with his ratings plummeting and the Tories falling well below Labor in opinion polls.
He faced fresh calls to quit after a report emerged on Monday that parties were held in Downing Street while COVID-19 lockdown rules were in effect, gatherings which police are also investigating.
The report highlighted “serious failures of leadership” at the heart of the UK government. Opposition figures have called him a habitual liar who misled parliament – charges he dismissed.
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