The week that ends featured a new chapter in Boris Johnson’s soap opera of parties during the pandemic. The so-called partygate started as an earthquake at the turn of 2021 to 2022 and it was speculated that it could overthrow the British Prime Minister earlier this year. The case, however, cooled, Boris Johnson paid an administrative fine and the episode seemed to have been put aside, until the recent publication of photos from the parties.
The photos published in the English media registered the farewell party for then-communication director Lee Cain. Made on 13 November 2020, they show Boris Johnson talking in the middle of the convecote, with bottles of wine, food and the prime minister raising his glass in an apparent toast. The date matters, as the occasion was just a few days after the decree of a second confinement in the United Kingdom, as a measure against the Covid pandemic-13 — the so called Stay at Home Order, “Order to Stay at Home” in a free translation.
Instead of the premier and the members of his cabinet lead by example during the pandemic, were swarming with unmasked, smiling guests. Remembering that the parties were held at the official Downing Street residence and at least one of them still had the aggravating factor of having been during the official mourning period for the death of the then Prince-Consort Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on April 9 of 2021.
Between December of 2021 and February of
, aides resigned and Boris Johnson changed his versions. First, he stated that “I have been repeatedly assured, since these allegations emerged, that there was no party and that no rules were broken.” Afterwards, he admitted to a party, but he was not present. He later admitted that he was there, but did not participate in the festivities. To the parliament he said that he sincerely apologized and that he only greeted his employees.
Now we have the images of Boris Johnson literally partying while the population was confined. Because of the photographs, Boris Johnson, last Wednesday, stated that he “takes full responsibility for everything that happened” and that “Sue Gray’s report emphasized that it is up to the political leadership to take ultimate responsibility, and of course I I assume”. He stated that he understands “people’s anger”, but rejected the resignation and that he “will move on.”
The aforementioned Sue Gray report is, politically, the centerpiece of this whole episode. We talk about partygate in January here in our space. We cite the pressure to resign from both the opposition and some conservatives, we mention Boris Johnson’s approval ratings and how his administration has handled the pandemic. Since then, however, much of that has changed, because of the war in Ukraine.
Boris Johnson, astutely, projected himself as a reference in supporting the Ukrainians, with the provision of intelligence, weapons and speeches calling for more and more support for Ukraine. At the same time, he pleased sectors closest to the Conservative party by not relaxing the rules for foreigners entering the country. Of the millions of Ukrainians who fled the war, only about 60 a thousand entered the UK.
In one fell swoop, Boris Johnson managed to let the partygate lose ground in the headlines, keeping him busy with his activities in relation to the conflict, and without losing his base in his party. Still, we are talking about image, media space and approval or rejection rates. The Sue Gray report, regardless, will serve in the assessment of an objective question: did Boris Johnson deliberately lie to parliament?
The report is part of the preparation of a parliamentary commission, a “CPI” , which will assess the conduct of the prime minister and the cabinet. Johnson has already tried to get ahead, saying he will have a “good opportunity” to put the events in context and show that he has not lied to parliament. The lie, if proven, could make his resignation required under the government’s code of conduct.
Bill Clinton and perjury
It is a situation similar to the impeachment of the then US president, Bill Clinton, in 1998. The legend still survives that Clinton would have been impeached by the House of Representatives for having an extramarital affair with then White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Or, still, the fact that the extramarital affair involved a subordinate of the president, representing some possible abuse of power.
None of this, Clinton was impeached for having lied under oath in an investigation, the crime of perjury. In this case, the investigation of a sexual harassment complaint made by another employee, Paula Jones. When testifying in that case on 17 January 26, Clinton denied having had sexual intercourse. with Monica Lewinsky. In doing so he committed a crime, that of perjury.
On January 26 of January , Clinton, at a press conference, repeated, now publicly, that she never had sex with Lewinsky. As a result, the prosecutor in the case published a report accusing Clinton of eleven crimes and wrongdoings. As is known, he was convicted in the House and acquitted by the Senate at the beginning of 1999. He also lost his license to practice for five years, for having committed perjury.
This is what partygate is going to deal with now, from the perspective of the British legal system. Not just the image of Boris Johnson or ethical debates about festivities in the midst of a moment of national mourning enacted. Did he deliberately lie to parliament, hiding his participation in such parties? If so, there won’t be much choice other than resignation and an internal election by the Conservative party.