“Partygate”: 4 questions to understand the Boris Johnson government party scandal during the UK lockdown

It has been a week of apologizing for the government led by Conservative Boris Johnson in the UK.

First it was Wednesday in Parliament. There, the British Prime Minister apologized to his colleagues at Westminster for having participated in a party held in May 2020, in full confinement due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Then, this Friday, a spokesman for 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, sent a letter to Buckingham Palace, residence of Queen Elizabeth II, in which he apologized for the celebration of two parties in the night prior to the funeral of Prince Philip of Edinburgh, husband of the monarch, who died in April 2021.

“The Prime Minister’s office deeply regrets that this has happened. in a time of national mourning“, can be read in the statement.

Such meetings were also held when the country was in lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic and there were severe restrictions on social gatherings.

The scandal of the parties that took place while the majority of British citizens could not meet, or be with their families in the most difficult moments of the pandemic, has caused a wave of “anger and sadness” in the country.

The situation has been so dire that the leaders of opposition parties such as Labor and Liberal Democrats have called for Johnson’s resignation.. And even several parliamentarians from the government’s own party have called for the prime minister’s departure.

Some British media point out that behind the leaks about the parties is Dominic Cummings, who was a star adviser to Boris Johnson and one of the ‘brains’ of the Brexit campaign, who was forced to leave Downing Street in November 2020, after a prolonged confrontation with Johnson’s wife.

At BBC Mundo we explain the main points of this scandal, which may have unexpected consequences for the political future of Boris Johnson.

Downing Street is the official residence of the Prime Minister.

1. What really happened in Downing Street?

It has been like climbing a ladder and, for each step, finding a different and more revealing detail.

A starting point for the scandal could be set towards the middle of 2021, when the newspaper The Sun revealed a photo and video of then-British Health Secretary Matt Hancock kissing Gina Coladangelo, an adviser to the same government portfolio.

The image was dated May of that year, when serious restrictions and social distancing were in place. by Hancock himself to protect the population during the pandemic.

The publication of these images forced the minister’s resignation and opened a door that has not yet been closed: the leaking of photos showing Downing Street officials in meetings and parties when the government itself had prohibited the gathering of more than two people.

Although they have appeared in a different order, until now the existence of several celebrations has been known.

One was held in May 2020, and in the images you can even see the prime minister in the garden of the official residence drinking wine with other officials.

Boris Johnson.

Getty Images
Boris Johnson became the UK Prime Minister in July 2019.

There were also known meetings that took place in December of that year, during the Christmas holidays, where several officials are seen sharing food and drinks with each other.

At that time, the United Kingdom was experiencing a critical situation with more than 400 daily deaths.

In an image from that Christmas season you can see the prime minister solving a quiz or typical riddle of the British New Year’s Eve celebrations with other people in the same room, and sitting at the same table, on December 15, 2020, according to the date of the photo.

Meetings include the farewell of officials who were retiring from the government or the already famous Christmas party on December 18, 2020.

After the first information was released, Johnson initially denied that these meetings had taken place and later said that he had not participated in them.

That, until the personal apologies delivered this Wednesday in Parliament, in which he admitted that he was present at said acts.

And to these images were added the details given to different British media about meetings with alcohol consumption even on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral ceremony, on April 9, 2021.

United Kingdom.

Getty Images
The image of Elizabeth II alone during the funeral of her husband of more than 60 years highlighted the drastic measures taken in the United Kingdom.

One of the images that the British remember the most, and that has resurfaced with the publicity of the festivities, is that of an Elizabeth II alone and apart during the funeral ceremony of her husband to comply with the regulations imposed by the government itself.

Hence the apology message sent directly to Buckingham Palace this Friday.

2. What has been the reaction in the UK?

The reaction has been one of “anger and sadness”, as several analysts and political leaders in the country have summed up.

For example, Labor Opposition Leader Keir Starmer has been particularly vocal in calling for Johnson to resign in the face of a flood of details about social gatherings in Downing Street.

“All of this shows the very serious way in which Boris Johnson has demoted the office of the Prime Minister,” Starmer said this week.

And he added: “Party’s over, Prime Minister. The only question that remains to be resolved is whether it will be the British who kick him out or his own party, or if you, as the last decent thing to do, are going to quit.”

In fact, many Britons have expressed their rejection of what happened. Especially those who lost family members to the virus and couldn’t say goodbye to them.

man with sign

Getty Images
In the United Kingdom, what has been revealed about the parties in Downing Street in the midst of confinement has not gone down well.

“Two weeks before Boris Johnson was to attend one of these parties, I said goodbye to my parents for the last time. And I had to do it from afar,” said journalist Chris Bishop in a column published in the newspaper Eastern Daily News.

“What bothers me the most about all this is that, while almost everyone else made sacrifices on a daily basis, those close to the highest echelons of government acted as if the guidelines did not apply to them,” he said.

Citizens also showed their discontent in different areas.

“I think it’s disgusting, after all. They tell us we can’t do this or we can’t do that and we can’t take our kids and then they can have social gatherings with who they want, when they want. I really don’t think that’s fair,” said Sakeena, a 35-year-old mother of five, in an interview with the BBC.

Several polls also indicate that, if an election were held now, the opposition Labor party would have a lead of more than 10 points.

3. What exactly has Boris Johnson said and what awaits him?

When the first reports about meetings in Downing Street began to be known, Johnson always denied his participation in them and therefore refused to apologize.

However, the revelations made in recent weeks, which place him in various meetings throughout the year, heand forced to change their speech.

This week before Parliament he accepted for the first time that he had been in one of those meetings, although he said that he always thought that they were work meetings.

I want to apologize. I know of the extraordinary sacrifices that millions of people have made in the last 18 months. I am aware of the anger you feel towards me and my government when you think that the rules were not followed in Downing Street”, he said during the parliamentary session.

And he added about the party that was held in the garden of his residence: “From the current perspective, I think I should have asked everyone to go back inside. I should have realized that even though the official recommendations were technically being followed, millions of people would be unable to see it that way.”

Sue Gray

Sue Gray must deliver a report in the coming days on what happened during those meetings when there were measures restricting meetings.

But, according to some analysts, the only thing he has achieved with these apologies is to have a little air until the next chapter of this story appears: the investigation in which Sue Gray works.

Gray is a permanent secretary of the government cabinet, but, above all, she is the person chosen to carry out the investigation that was ordered to find out details of the parties and establish if they in any way broke any law.

That report will be released in aace weeks.

For the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, “some of Johnson’s allies suggest that Sue Gray’s report could end up becoming a liability [para Johnson] after his public explanations last Wednesday”.

“Even if it doesn’t mean his immediate departure, the truth is that it brings to the table something that was previously unthinkable: that Boris Johnson’s term in power could end soon.”

4. What is the 1922 Committee and why is it key now?

One of the possibilities that has gained notoriety in recent weeks is the early departure of Boris Johnson from the government.

That could happen in several ways, but especially in two: that he himself resign from his position -something that for now seems unlikely- or that members of his own party take him out.

This is where the 1922 Committee comes in, which was actually created in 1923 and basically consists of a group of Conservative MPs who meet weekly to review the strategies and actions the party is taking.

Woman with the newspaper in her hand.

Getty Images
This scandal could mean Johnson’s departure from Downing Street.

But also, their support is essential to keep the prime minister and the members of his cabinet in power, when the Conservative party is in government, as is currently the case.

In fact, the committee has a no-confidence vote tool that works as follows: if a Conservative MP disagrees with the party’s leadership, they can send a letter to the head of the 1922 Committee.

In the event that letters arrive from 15% of the conservative parliamentarians in the House of Commons expressing disagreement with the party leadership, it would be possible to call a vote of confidence towards the current leader, which could end with his resignation from the post.

In the case of Boris Johnson, it would be his end as prime minister.

So far it has been known that six parliamentarians have publicly expressed their disagreement, but 54 letters would be needed (at the moment there are 360 ​​conservative parliamentarians) for a vote to be called.

Now you can receive notifications from BBC World. Download our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.