UK’s Boris Johnson Awaits Judgment of ‘Partygate’ Report | Economic news
By SYLVIA HUI and JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been in the shadow of a career-threatening scandal for months — but so far he has emerged unscathed.
This week, he faces another threat to his political future: a full report on parties breaching the lockdown in government offices due out in days.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is to release her findings on ‘partygate’, the scandal of more than a dozen gatherings at Johnson’s No. 10 Downing St. residence and nearby buildings that took place when coronavirus restrictions were lifted prohibits people in Britain from mixing with others.
Claims that Johnson and his staff profited from illegal office parties as millions across the country complied with strict COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 have dogged Johnson’s conservative government since they first appeared in the end of last year. Critics, including some within Johnson’s own ranks, have called for him to step down.
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Police investigated and said last week they issued a total of 126 fines to 83 people. Most are believed to be junior employees, but Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($60) for attending a surprise birthday party thrown for him in June 2020. This made him the first British Prime Minister for breaking the law while in office.
Johnson apologized but insisted he had not knowingly broken the rules, saying it ‘didn’t occur to me’ that the brief gathering was a party – a claim that aroused the derision of many.
Police did not identify those who were fined, but Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Johnson’s wife Carrie said they also paid fines for attending the birthday party. of Johnson.
As “partygate” threatened to topple Johnson’s leadership earlier this year, he clung to power, in part because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine distracted public and political attention.
He was granted a reprieve when the Metropolitan Police told him last week that he would no longer receive fines, despite having attended several of the events under investigation.
Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke defended the Prime Minister on Monday, saying Johnson “was fined for a slice of cake between meetings”.
He said the context of the parties was a government under “extraordinary” pressure during the pandemic with people “literally working on life and death issues” and operating under “exhausting pressure”.
Gray’s full report could renew pressure on Johnson if it heavily criticizes him and senior officials or contains photos and other vivid evidence of Downing Street socialization.
The government says it will release Gray’s report in full once it is delivered.
A partial version of Gray’s report was released in January after police asked him to leave out details to avoid prejudice to police investigations. The partial report did not name individuals, but it criticized “failures of leadership and judgment” that allowed the parties to take place.
About 30 people, including Johnson, have been contacted by Gray’s team over the past few days to alert them to the contents of the report ahead of its release.
While the Gray report is closely watched, the official’s leeway to censor Johnson is limited – and it is unclear how much its release will help restore public trust in the Conservative government.
On Friday, new questions were raised after British media reported that Johnson and Gray met several weeks ago – although exactly what the two discussed is unclear.
Defending Johnson on Sunday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said Gray was conducting an “independent” investigation.
“The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he has never intervened or that he will seek to intervene or interfere with the investigation,” Zahawi told the BBC.
Opposition parties have urged Johnson to explain why he held a “secret meeting” with Gray.
“Public confidence in the process is already depleted and people deserve to know the truth,” said Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party.
Johnson also faces a separate inquiry from lawmakers into whether he knowingly lied to parliament when he told lawmakers earlier that no laws were broken in Downing Street. Ministers who have done so are generally expected to have resigned.
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