British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political career may be in danger as allegations swirl that he attended a 50-person Christmas party at 10 Downing Street while the rest of England was under lockdown. According to BBC News, Johnson also hosted a “bring your own booze” event with around 100 invitees in May of 2020. The revelations have sparked speculation Johnson may have to step down, and that a Conservative party election will determine a new party leader and prime minister.
Some witnesses at the Christmas party claim that 40 to 50 people were crammed “cheek by jowl” into the Prime Minister’s official residence. At first, the story broke in The Daily Mirror in December, where it received little to no attention amid the third national lockdown. ITV News reports that then-Downing Street press secretary Allegra Stratton admitted that the “business meeting” Prime Minister Johnson had was a “cheese and wine” that “was not socially distanced.”
In Parliament on January 12, Johnson eventually apologized amid a barrage of condemnations led by opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, according to an additional BBC News report. Opposition within the Conservative parliamentarians also became public as Douglas Ross, MP for Moray in northeastern Scotland said, “He is the prime minister, it is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions.”
According to the Associated Press, the Metropolitan Police of Greater London is investigating the allegations. If true, the parties would have broken various laws passed by Parliament enabling the lockdown. The department has tasked civil servant Sue Gray to file a report and to make “minimal reference” to the accusations in efforts to avoid bias.
As for Johnson and his political state, he faces pressure to resign from the opposition and some in his own party. There have been calls within the Conservative Party to hold a vote of no confidence, and over thirty letters have reportedly been sent thus far to the party’s 1922 Committee. Made up of the loyal backbenchers, or parliamentarians without a cabinet position, the 1922 Committee would determine in this case if Johnson would be removed as party leader—and therefore as prime minister—if they receive 54 letters, or from 15 percent of the Tory delegation in the House of Commons, says Sky News.
One possible candidate for replacing Johnson is Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. A son of Indian immigrants, Sunak has fared well in opinion polls, with YouGov ranking him first among Conservative politicians in the UK. His personal popularity reflects this, with 155 thousand followers on Instagram. Sunak has also recently increased pandemic aid across Britain, recently opening a £1 billion fund for businesses.
Despite the high ratings, Sunak has been in some controversy lately regarding his COVID relief program and its transparency, says an additional BBC News report. Sunak has been dealing with accusations of ignoring fraudulently-claimed COVID relief funds, over which on January 28, Treasury minister Lord Agnew resigned from the House of Lords over what he called Sunak’s “little interest in the consequences of fraud to our society.”
Another contender to the Tory leadership if Johnson falls is foreign secretary Liz Truss. A former anti-Brexiter, she took over Brexit talks over Northern Ireland after the resignation of minister David Frost, reports CNBC. Truss is seen as defending Britain’s traditional posts in world politics and being hard on China and Russia. She has, however, come under fire for trying to embrace the Gulf States after the government of Saudi Arabia sentenced scholar Hassan al-Maliki to death for owning prohibited content in his library, says The Independent.
Despite the speculation of Truss running in a leadership race, she has publicly backed the prime minister, stating that “there is no leadership election” and that “I want the Prime Minister to continue as long as possible in his job. He is doing a fantastic job.