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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No 10 Downing Street to attend a weekly questions and answers session at parliament in London, England, January 9 2022. Picture: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No 10 Downing Street to attend a weekly questions and answers session at parliament in London, England, January 9 2022. Picture: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG

Boris Johnson, fighting to keep his job as British prime minister amid a storm over lockdown parties at 10 Downing Street, said in parliament on Wednesday that he would not resign. 

Johnson is struggling to quell a revolt by his own MPs who are angry about the parties at the prime minister’s office and residence in Downing Street, London, during Covid-19 lockdowns, as well as facing opposition calls for him to step down.

Johnson, who in 2019 won his party’s biggest majority in more than 30 years on a pledge to “Get Brexit Done”, has apologised repeatedly for the parties and said that he was unaware of many of them.

But he attended what he said he thought was a work event on May 20 2020 to which revellers had been told to “bring their own booze”.

“Every week, the prime minister offers absurd and frankly unbelievable defences to the Downing Street parties, and each week it unravels,” Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, told parliament.

Starmer, who welcomed the defection of MP Christian Wakeford from Johnson’s Conservatives to join Labour, asked Johnson if a prime minister should resign if he misled parliament. 

Asked directly if he would resign, Johnson said: “No”.

To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the party’s 1922 committee chair.

As many as 20 Conservative MPs who won their seats at the last general election in 2019 plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, the Telegraph reports. A few others said they had already written such letters.

An analysis by The Times newspaper showed that 58 Conservative MPs had openly criticised the prime minister.

Toppling Johnson would leave the UK in limbo for months while the West deals with the Ukraine crisis and the world’s fifth-largest economy grapples with the inflationary wave triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, with UK inflation rising to the highest level in nearly 30 years.

Leading rivals in the Conservative Party include chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, 41, and foreign secretary Liz Truss, 46.

On Tuesday, Johnson denied an accusation by his former adviser that he had lied to parliament about a lockdown party, saying nobody had warned him the “bring your own booze” gathering might contravene Covid-19 rules.

Starmer said: “As he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party? Does the prime minister realise how ridiculous that sounds?”

Downing Street lockdown parties — some held when citizens were not allowed to bid farewell in person to dying family members — have undermined Johnson’s authority.

His former spokesperson resigned after she was captured on camera laughing and joking about how to cast a party if asked about it by reporters.

Such was the revelry in Downing Street at one event that staff went to a nearby supermarket to buy a suitcase of alcohol, spilled wine on carpets, and broke a swing used by the prime minister’s young son.

The Mirror said staff bought a wine fridge for Friday gatherings, events Johnson often saw Johnson as he walked to his apartment in the building.

Johnson has given a variety of explanations of the parties, ranging from denials that any rules were broken to expressing understanding for the public anger at apparent hypocrisy at the heart of the British government.

Opponents have called for Johnson to resign, casting him as a charlatan who demanded the British people follow some of the heaviest rules in peacetime history while his staff partied.

“My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks,” said defecting MP Wakeford.

“I can no longer support a government that has shown itself consistently out of touch with the hard-working people of Bury South and the country as a whole.”

The mounting internal Conservative rebellion was cast as the “pork pie plot” because one alleged rebel MP is from Melton, home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Pork pie is also London slang for a lie.

The rise of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, often referred to as simply “Boris”, to prime minister was the grandest move in a career that took him from journalism via TV show fame, comedy and scandal into the cauldron of the Brexit crisis — and then to the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

A flamboyant figure known for his ambition, untidy blond hair, flowery oratory and cursory command of policy detail, Johnson’s rise to power was all about Brexit.

But after securing Britain’s exit from the EU, Johnson was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic which has killed 152,513 people in the UK. After surviving Covid-19 in 2020, he said it nearly killed him.

Reuters

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