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Politics

Will Boris Johnson resign?

The prime minister is under pressure to resign after Downing Street said he would be fined by police over a number of parties and social gatherings during Covid lockdowns.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing renewed calls to resign as the BBC has reported he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are among more than 50 people fined by police over parties held in government departments during lockdown.

The prime minister has faced pressure from across the political spectrum – including inside his own Conservative party – calling for him to stand down amid the Partygate allegations.

Five of Johnson’s top team have already resigned as the prime minister struggles to regain trust in his party. Around 20 MPs have also delivered letters of no confidence against the prime minister, seven of those doing so publicly.

Johnson has been helped by the fact a report by top civil servant Sue Gray into the parties ended up being heavily stripped-back at the request of police, sparing detail on the gatherings the force is investigating. (It can be hard to keep on top of all of the alleged parties, what with there being so many, so here’s a list of them.)

The Met Police are investigating 12 gatherings – at the heart of which are a birthday party held for Johnson on June 19 2020 and a gathering in the Number 10 flat on November 13, 2020.

Gray did go as far as saying there had been “failures of leadership” inside Number 10 regarding Partygate. So what are the chances Johnson will call an end to his two-and-a-half-year stint in the job?

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Here’s where things stand.

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Who has already resigned from the Partygate fallout?

The former Downing Street press secretary, Allegra Stratton, was the first high-profile figure to resign over the parties. Stratton gave a tearful resignation speech outside her house in December 2021 after footage emerged of aides laughing about a party during a rehearsal press conference.

Amid jokes about “cheese and wine” Stratton laughs and says “this is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting” before adding, through stifled laughs, “and it was not socially distanced”.

Almost 700 people died of coronavirus on the day the footage was filmed, on December 22. Some 514 died on the day of the alleged party, on December 18. Downing Street has repeatedly denied a party took place.

Five of the prime minister’s Downing Street staff resigned in February. Former chief of policy Munira Mirza, who had worked for Johnson for 14 years, wrote a public letter of resignation after he tried to use a false claim about Jimmy Saville to deflect attention from the scandal during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, director of communications Jack Doyle, and special adviser Elena Narozanski also announced their departure, as did Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary Martin Reynolds – author of the invite to the party held May 20 2020 in the garden of Number 10 that asked attendees to “bring your own booze”. 

What has Boris Johnson said?

Johnson has refused to comment outright on his future ahead of the outcome of investigations into Downing Street parties during lockdown – first Gray’s and now the Met Police’s.

The prime minister has apologised over the scandal, telling MPs at PMQs on January 12 that he “must take full responsibility”, saying he “knew the rage” that people around the UK felt. He apologised again in the Commons following publication of Gray’s report – though it’s not entirely clear what for. “I get it and I will fix it”, he told MPs on January 31.

He confirmed that he attended the drinks event at just after 6pm before returning to his office 25 minutes later. He said the event was “implicitly a work event”.

Then, at PMQs on January 26, the prime minister did appear to confirm he would resign if it turned out he had misled parliament.

Who is Sue Gray and what did her investigation find?

Civil servant Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, was tasked with investigating allegations of a number of parties that took place at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdowns when restrictions were in place to limit the spread of the virus.

Gray’s report, released in a stripped-down version on January 31 following a request by police, did not pass judgement on whether any of the gatherings broke Covid rules, but bemoans a failure of leadership in Downing Street.

“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times,” Gray wrote.

“Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”

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The report revealed that only four of the alleged gatherings Gray covered are not under police investigation – including a Christmas party at the Department of Education, and the online Christmas quiz in Downing Street.

However, gatherings held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, as well as another gathering in the Cabinet Room on Johnson’s birthday in June 2020 are under police investigation.

The report did not give details of individual gatherings, or what Gray uncovered during her investigations, but made general comments on the failings involved in the gatherings.

“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” Gray wrote.

The senior civil servant recommended departments put in place their own alcohol policies and called for reform of management structures in Number 10.

Who has called for Boris Johnson to resign?

There has been rising discontent in the prime minister’s party since he apologised.

One MP, Bury South’s Christian Wakeford has even left the party. Opting to defect from the Conservatives to Labour just minutes before Johnson was due to face Prime Minister’s Questions on January 19.

The Bury South MP had previously confirmed he was one of the Tory ministers who had submitted a letter of no-confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

In total, 54 Conservative MPs – 15 per cent of the party’s 360 sitting representatives – would need to submit a letter in order to trigger a leadership vote, according to the party’s rules.

It had looked likely that total would be met – but the intervention by police seems to have bought Johnson time on that front. That’s not to say there isn’t a steady stream of MPs demanding his resignation, though.

Around 20 MPs who were voted in at the 2019 General Election reportedly held a secret meeting to discuss their stance on the Conservative leader earlier in January.

But will Boris Johnson resign?

This is not the first time Johnson has faced calls to quit after a scandal-hit 2021 but he has proved to be resilient during his Downing Street tenure.

There are no signs he will resign before the findings of Susan Gray’s investigation are made public.

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However, the anger that ‘partygate’ has sparked in his own party could see backbenchers decide his fate if enough votes of no-confidence are submitted following Johnson’s PMQs apology.

Johnson could yet face a leadership vote but it is unclear whether any of the leading candidates to replace him would be able to mount a suitable challenge.

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