London: Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced dramatic developments Wednesday over the so-called “partygate” scandal that has threatened his grip on the leadership and his own Conservative Party.
Johnson, 57, attempted to deflect attention from the crisis around damaging allegations of parties held in apparent breach of lockdown restrictions at Downing Street by urging MPs to wait for the outcome of an internal inquiry.
His announcement to end tough COVID-19 Plan B restrictions from next week amid a stabilising of the Omicron variant impact on hospitals was also timed to placate his backbench MPs. But the atmosphere in Parliament remained highly charged, with a former Tory minister leading calls for him to step down.
“I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go,” said David Davis, a former Brexit minister.
Just moments before the start of the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Christian Wakeford announced his defection to the Opposition and proceeded to dramatically walk across the floor to the Labour Party benches.
“You and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves,” declared Wakeford, among a new crop of MPs to have secured Johnson a win in traditionally Labour strongholds in northern England in the 2019 General Election.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer welcomed the defection of the MP for Bury South, inviting other Tories who felt let down by the leadership.
“Like so many people up and down the country, he has concluded that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government the country deserves, whereas the Labour Party stands ready to provide an alternative government that the country can be proud of,” said Starmer.
“Anyone who wants to build a new Britain based on security, prosperity and decency is welcome in this party,” he said, before piling pressure on Johnson over latest allegations by his former top aide Dominic Cummings that Johnson was in fact warned by him against allowing a garden party on May 20, 2020, for which the UK PM has since apologised in Parliament.
The Opposition leader attacked Boris Johnson’s account of events as getting “more extraordinary” by the day, adding: “It requires the Prime Minister to expect us to believe that while every other person who was invited to the party on May 20 was told it was a social event, he alone thought it was a work event.
“It also requires us to believe that as he waded through the empty bottles and sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party! Does the Prime Minister realise how ridiculous that sounds?”
The Commons clash came as reports of a so-called “pork pie plot” is underway, being spearheaded by new Tory MP Alicia Kearns – who represents Melton, the home of Melton Mowbray pork pies in England.
She is leading a group of 20 or so relatively new members of Parliament, who are said to have already drafted their letters of no-confidence for the 1922 Backbench Committee. The all-powerful backbench group that determines Conservative Party leadership contests must receive 54 such letters for a leadership contest to be automatically triggered.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office investigation into the partygate allegations, being led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, is expected to report next week. It will determine whether Johnson broke the rules or misled Parliament in his account of the events during the first and second wave of the pandemic over the course of 2020 and 2021.