Lockdown party claims add to list of Boris Johnson scandals
LONDON (AP) — Allegations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff held a “bring your own booze” garden party while Britain was in lockdown are just the latest claims of wrongdoing to rattle the leader.
Cases of rule-bending and dishonesty have followed Johnson through his twin careers as journalist and politician. He was once fired from a newspaper for making up a quote, and later ousted from a Conservative Party post for lying about an extramarital affair.
He has always bounced back. But now discontent is growing inside Johnson’s own Conservative Party over a leader often accused of acting as if rules don’t apply to him. The prime minister faces a high-stakes showdown in Parliament on Wednesday.
Here’s a look at the scandals Johnson is currently facing.
CASH FOR CURTAINS
Johnson has faced months of allegations over refurbishment of the Downing Street apartment that prime ministers use as their official residence. Leaders are granted 30,000 pounds ($41,000) a year for upkeep, but after Johnson and his now-wife, Carrie, took up residence in 2019, they undertook a much more expensive overhaul, complete with designer wallpaper and pricey furniture.
Johnson’s office initially said he had paid for the redecoration himself, but it was later disclosed that it had been funded by a wealthy Conservative Party donor, David Brownlow.
Christopher Geidt, an ethics adviser appointed by Johnson, said the prime minister didn’t know where the money came from until the media reported it in early 2021, after which he paid it back.
“I have covered the costs. I have met the requirements I am obliged to meet in full,” Johnson said in April.
Geidt cleared the prime minister of wrongdoing in May.
After the media published WhatsApp exchanges between Johnson and Brownlow suggesting the prime minister did know where the money came from, Geidt last week expressed “grave concern” that information had been withheld from him. But he didn’t overturn his earlier ruling.
Separately, Britain’s political regulator, the Electoral Commission, fined the Conservative Party 17,800 pounds ($24,000) in December for failing properly to disclose details of the refurbishment money.
LAX LOBBYING RULES
In November, the House of Commons’ standards committee said Conservative lawmaker Owen Paterson should be suspended for a month after he was found to have broken lobbying rules by advocating on behalf of two companies that were paying him.
Instead of backing the suspension — as has happened in all previous cases — Johnson’s government ordered Conservative lawmakers to block it and instead overhaul the entire standards procedure.
That sparked a furious outcry — from Conservatives as well as the opposition — and the government reversed course the next day. Paterson resigned, and in a special election to replace him, the Liberal Democrats ousted the Conservatives in a district that had long been a party stronghold.
Johnson insisted at the time that “the U.K. is not remotely a corrupt country.” But the Paterson affair prompted calls to tighten Britain’s loose rules on lobbying and lawmakers’ second jobs. That effort gathered steam after the revelation that one legislator had earned 400,000 pounds ($545,000) a year as a lawyer while also serving as a member of Parliament.
So far, no formal investigation into the rules has been called.
Among the most damaging allegations are that Johnson and his staff repeatedly flouted the strict restrictions the government imposed on the nation during the pandemic.
It started with the revelation that Johnson’s then-top aide, Dominic Cummings, drove 250 miles (400 kilometers) across England to his parents’ house in March 2020 while the country was under a “stay-at-home” order.
Johnson resisted calls to fire Cummings, but later fell out with his adviser, who left the government and has become a fierce critic. Cummings is among those alleging that government staff held a series of lockdown-breaching gatherings at the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence, including Christmas parties in November and December 2020 and a garden party in May 2020 to which almost 100 people were invited. British media are reporting that the May party was attended by the prime minister and his wife.
Johnson and his spokespeople have refused to comment on the latest party allegations, citing an ongoing inquiry by a senior civil servant — but he has previously said he broke no rules.
Asked about the garden party on Monday, Johnson said: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”
Gray is expected to report her findings by the end of the month.