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UK lawmakers back probe into PM Boris Johnson

April 21, 2022

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is accused of lying to parliament about breaking coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic. He denies deliberately misleading lawmakers, which is a resigning matter.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson will face a parliamentary probe on lying to the body after police and civil-service wrap up their investigationsImage: various sources/AFP

British parliamentarians voted to put Prime Minister Boris Johnson under investigation on Thursday in an effort to determine whether he lied about allegations that he and his staff had repeatedly and knowingly broken UK coronavirus lockdown rules in what has come to be known as "partygate."

The motion calling for a parliamentary investigation passed without opposition after Johnson's government dropped prior attempts to delay the decision.

Johnson himself, traveling in India, has said that he has "nothing to hide" but suggested parliament delay any investigation until police had finished theirs.

PM thick-skinned as Conservatives hedge bets 

Johnson, who has already been fined and chastised in prior police reports after evidence showed he and his staff had held a number of parties at 10 Downing Street, has reiterated his vow to remain in office despite public and political pressure to step down.

Historically, contempt of parliament has been a resigning offense when proven. Still, speaking from India, Johnson said he was eager to "get on with the job" of leading the country.

Images of the prime minister and his staff jovially drinking and playing party games at a time when relatives were not even allowed to visit dying family members has hampered his popularity, yet he has repeatedly told parliament he had no idea he was breaking rules that his own government had drawn up.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said, "the simple principle of honesty, integrity and telling the truth" were "under attack" as a result of Johnson's behavior.

"The truth is simple and it's this — he lied to avoid getting caught, and once he got caught, he lied again," said Scottish National Party (SNP) lawmaker Ian Blackford during the debate in the House of Commons.   

Some parliamentarians from Johnson's Conservative Tory party have called for him to resign. Others have opted to wait out the public furor until results from May 5 local elections allow them to clearly gauge the potential political fallout of the affair before attempting to push him out or rallying behind him.

Young hopeful Rishi Sunak implicated, too

Parliament's Committee of Privileges probe will not commence until twin police and civil-service investigations into the matter have concluded.

Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, is currently investigating 16 events — including "bring your own booze" office parties and "wine time Fridays" at Johnson's 10 Downing Street office and other government buildings. 

Police are also probing a dozen events and have already handed out at least 50 fines, including to Johnson and his wife Carrie, as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak — a prime ministerial hopeful who also made headlines recently when it came to light that his wife had registered as a non-domiciled UK resident in an effort to avoid paying millions in annual taxes.

Johnson, who could face more fines as a result of ongoing police investigations, has insisted that it would be reckless for the country to change leaders now and that he would run for re-election in 2024.

js/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)