For once, his shirt was a little less wrinkled than usual, his tie better arranged, his suit adjusted. Boris Johnson has obviously made presentation efforts to engage in what is least natural to him: an apology. From the start of the Prime Minister’s Questions session on Wednesday, he took the lead. “I want to apologize. I know millions of people have made tremendous sacrifices over the past eighteen months. I know the pain they have experienced, unable to mourn their loved ones, to live their lives as they wish or to do what they love. I know the rage they feel against me and my government when they think that in Downing Street the rules are not being followed properly by the people who make those rules. ”
After several weeks of controversy, the British Prime Minister admits it: he was present in person at the party organized on May 20, 2020 in the gardens of Downing Street. At the time, containment was still strict in the United Kingdom. Just before the reception, a minister recalled the rules, which were starting to loosen: for a week, it was allowed to meet a person from another household, but only outdoors and keeping 2 meters away.
“Bring your bottle”
At the same time, around 100 Downing Street employees were invited by email to the gardens of the Prime Minister’s residence. Between 30 and 40 people were present. “Bring your own bottle,” asked Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s private secretary. The Prime Minister himself had come, “for twenty-five minutes,” he tried to minimize.
Yet he refuses to fully admit his fault. “I implicitly thought that it was a working meeting,” he said. The goal was to thank the employees for their very hard work during this turbulent time.
For Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labor opposition, this half-apology is unacceptable. “After months of deception and deception, here is the pathetic sight of a man at the end of the road… His defense is that he didn’t realize he was at a party. It’s so ridiculous it’s insulting to the British public. […] Is he now going to do what’s right and quit? ” Six times, he returned to the charge: “The party is over, Mr. Prime Minister. The only question is whether it is the British public who are going to kick him out, or his own party, or if he will come out decent and resign? “
Since the revelation of this holiday by the ITV television channel, the moving testimonies of Britons who could not be at the bedside of their loved ones in May 2020 have multiplied. “She could not see her sister, her friends and relatives,” said Amanda McGean, whose daughter died alone in hospital in May 2020. I am very sad that she spent her last two months so isolated . ” “People have died by playing by the rules,” adds Lisa Wilkie, whose brother died around the same time. And they broke those rules to… drink a bottle of wine. ”
Boris Johnson is taking refuge behind an internal investigation that has been opened, covering this party as well as a series of others that took place in Downing Street during the first confinement and the second, in December 2020. Sue Gray, a senior official known for her integrity, directs her. “We must wait for its conclusions”, repeats the British Prime Minister.
But even his own camp no longer conceals his exasperation. “How to defend the indefensible? It is not possible!” exclaims on Twitter Christian Wakeford, a Conservative MP. “It’s humiliating and it doesn’t reflect the majority of my colleagues who, at the very least, try to lead by example,” adds Johnny Mercer, another elected Tory.
To change leaders, the Conservative Party has simple rules: 15% of deputies (currently 54) must sign a letter requesting a motion of no confidence; this must then be voted by a simple majority of elected officials. Will they dare to do it? Now, many are talking about it in private, and a few openly. But the current Downing Street tenant has bounced back so often in the past …