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Johnson-Cummings Party Scandal: British PM Appears a Cornered Man

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo)

Boris Johnson slipped deeper into trouble over the ‘partygate’ row after his former top aide Dominic Cummings alleged that the PM had lied to Parliament about a gathering he attended during lockdown.

That confident, quick and breezy style had long defined Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his public appearances. He now looks less like himself than anyone guessed he ever would. He now appears before the nation a fidgety man with head bowed and his back to the wall.

On Tuesday, he offered another abject apology, and yet another excuse over ‘partygate’ that few seem ready to accept. “Nobody warned me that it was against the rules,” he said, cornered into an interview during the course of a visit to a hospital in London. He was referring to joining a gathering in his garden at 10 Downing Street on May 20, 2021, that he says he thought of as a work event, and that most others are calling a party.

People calling that gathering a party have in mind the invitation to the event asking everyone to “bring your own booze”. Not the usual invitation to a work meeting, not even in Britain.

The requirement for the rest of the nation – that Boris Johnson set out in televised appeals nationally – was to restrict people from meeting more than one person outdoors, and keeping two metres apart. About 30 attended that party (or a boozy work meeting) and there was no way each could have kept a distance of two metres from the nearest.


More than the excuse offered, Boris Johnson’s body language gave him away. He appeared bent and bowed. He looked fidgety, he spoke weakly. A long way down from his trademark swagger.

He apologised again, profusely. Almost too profusely. The British public are not accustomed to such an exhibition of contrite appearances from their Prime Minister.

It could hardly have helped him that he still did not confess to doing anything wrong, but only to not knowing if he did anything wrong, and whether the party (and party it appeared to be) was against the rules.

Inevitably the opposition Labour Party pounced. “He’s the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them,” said deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner. “If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.” She said Boris Johnson knows clearly that “it’s the end of the road”.


The Prime Minister will have a hard time defending his declared ignorance of the rules then in force that he had announced. But he faces yet more serious charges of lying to Parliament.

His former aide and now critic Dominic Cummings has said he is prepared to testify on oath that he had warned the Prime Minister not to attend the party. Boris Johnson said in his apology to Parliament last week that he thought it was a work event that he was attending. If Cummings is proved right, it would mean that the Prime Minister misled Parliament. The least to follow from that, if that were to be established, would be a resignation.

Following his second apology on Tuesday, Cummings said Boris Johnson is now “destroying his own support” and “hastening the inevitable”. Boris Johnson ducked the question whether he would resign if he was found to have misled Parliament. He referred to an ongoing inquiry by civil servant Sue Gray into the parties at 10 Downing Street through the lockdown.

Gray is expected to deliver her report next week, but there have been suggestions it could even come by the end of this week.

Cummings has said meanwhile that it is “not credible” to suggest that the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Mark Reynolds, who sent out the “BYOB” (bring your own booze) invitation to drinks in the PM’s garden could have done so without checking with Boris Johnson.

The BBC has cited two other former Downing Street officials saying Cummings had told them that day that he had advised the prime minister not to let the drinks go ahead. Johnson has denied this, as he insists that a gathering over drinks is not the same thing as a party. The prime minister is not finding many believers in the country, and more seriously for him, within his own party.

A YouGov survey indicates that 64 per cent of the public think the PM should resign.

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first published:January 19, 2022, 21:19 IST