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UK PM to address MPs as 'partygate' revolt swells

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday faced signs of an organised revolt in his Conservative party.

British PM denies lying about lockdown party
Johnson ducked questions about whether he might have to resign over the 'partygate' revelations - Copyright AFP
Johnson ducked questions about whether he might have to resign over the 'partygate' revelations - Copyright AFP
Anna MALPAS, Jitendra JOSHI

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday faced signs of an organised revolt in his Conservative party over revelations of lockdown-breaching parties, as he geared up for a grilling in parliament.

Johnson was set to speak at the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions, before outlining a plan to lift most coronavirus restrictions, as he strives to reboot his embattled leadership.

Criticism intensified after Johnson on Tuesday gave a strained television interview, in which he claimed not to have been told that at least one “bring your own booze” event would breach the Covid lockdown rules that he set.

Afterwards, a group of more than 20 Tory MPs met to “discuss their concerns about Johnson’s leadership”, The Times newspaper reported.

It said a number of those were preparing to submit letters of no confidence after Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons at midday (1200 GMT).

Several were named by media as those elected for the first time in Johnson’s landslide election victory in 2019, including younger Tories from the opposition Labour party’s former heartlands of northern England.

Their bid to unseat the prime minister was dubbed the “pork pie plot” because one of the MPs involved represents Melton Mowbray, a town in central England known for making the pastry covered meat products.

“Pork pies” is also Cockney rhyming slang for “lies” — which a majority of voters believe Johnson is guilty of spreading over the “partygate” affair, according to several opinion polls.

The Daily Telegraph — Johnson’s former employer from his days as a journalist and which normally backs the government — reported that 11 MPs elected in 2019 had submitted letters of no confidence.

At least 54 Tory MPs need to send letters calling for the prime minister’s resignation to trigger a party leadership challenge.

The threshold could be reached later Wednesday, the Telegraph said, although senior cabinet members are said to be uneasy at the pace of events with no consensus on a figure to succeed Johnson.

– Inflation stokes crisis –

“I choose to believe what he said,” armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky News, backing Johnson to stay in office pending an internal inquiry into the Downing Street parties by a senior civil servant.

But he conceded the Tory rebellion was not surprising, “because the British people are absolutely furious with what they’ve heard”.

Heappey added on Times Radio: “I am angry too, but I take very seriously the ministerial code that we all sign up to, and our responsibility when we stand up at the (Commons) dispatch box to be accurate in what we say.”

Johnson wrote in the foreword to the code in August 2019 that “integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest… must be honoured at all times”.

Last week, he told parliament he had no prior knowledge of a party that he and his staff attended in the Downing Street garden in May 20, 2020, during one lockdown.

But his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings on Monday said Johnson had lied in that statement, insisting that he and other aides had warned him the event was illegal under the then rules.

Senior Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News that Johnson “has lost all authority”, but the prime minister hopes a rollout of policy announcements will help steady the Downing Street ship.

Later Wednesday, Johnson was expected to say that in England from January 26, people can go back to working in their offices, and will no longer need to show vaccine passports on entry to larger events.

After the Omicron variant emerged, Britain’s daily caseload for Covid topped a record 200,000 infections in early January, but has now dropped to less than half that.

But he remains hobbled by growing alarms over the economy, which is fuelling Conservative jitters as Labour surges to a double-digit lead in the polls.

British annual inflation accelerated to a near 30-year high of 5.4 percent last month, according to the latest data, stoking fears over a cost-of-living crisis as households’ energy bills rocket.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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