British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized again to Parliament on Tuesday (19) for parties held in his office during periods that restricted social gatherings. It was the first such statement by the prime minister since a fine he received for violating measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic was released.
The speech was followed by protests against opposition politicians and the Conservative Party itself – although calls for resignation have been toned down in recent weeks.
Boris began the apology statement by mentioning his diplomatic efforts involving the Ukrainian War. Minutes before speaking to lawmakers, the prime minister had spoken by phone with leaders such as Joe Biden (USA), Emmanuel Macron (France) and Olaf Scholz (Germany).
The mention of the war may have been strategic, as Russia’s military actions are among the main reasons that pressure on Boris has eased since January. The opposition accused the prime minister of trying to play down the scandal.
Regarding the fines, the politician said he paid the amount immediately. “As soon as I received the notification, I recognized the hurt and anger, and I said that people had the right to expect better from their prime minister, and I repeat that in Parliament now.”
According to The Guardian, the likely value of the punishment applied can vary between 20 and 50 pounds (from R$120 to R$303). In addition to Boris, the prime minister’s wife, Claire, and the finance secretary, Rishi Sunak, were fined. The punishments are part of the 50 already applied by the London police related to parties held in the politician’s office and residence.
Boris told congressmen that he respected the decision of the investigations – which are still ongoing. “It didn’t occur to me, then or later, that a meeting in the cabinet room just before a vital Covid meeting could be a violation of the rules,” he said. “I repeat: this was my mistake and I apologize for it unreservedly.”
The prime minister, however, did not mention the fact that the meeting that triggered the fine was a party organized by his wife to celebrate his birthday on June 10, 2020. According to the government, the event lasted less than ten minutes.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the speech a joke and said Boris made a “poor mouthed apology”. He also stressed that the population “does not believe a word the prime minister says”. According to a poll by YouGov, 57% of Britons are in favor of the prime minister’s resignation and 75% believe he lied in the episode, known as “partygate”.
The criticisms were also embodied by the former leader of the Conservative Party (premier’s acronym) Mark Harper. In a letter posted on Twitter, he said he no longer thinks Boris “is worthy of the position he holds”. It is the first time that Harper mentions a possible resignation of the coreligionist.
Other party members had previously warned that they would not accept the prime minister to remain in office if he was found guilty of breaking the law. The announcement of the fines, then, brought back to the debate the possibility of the Conservatives presenting a motion of no confidence. The mechanism provided for in the parliamentary system would be the first step towards removing Boris from office.
For this, it is necessary that at least 54 of the 360 parliamentarians of the party send the request to a party body called the 1922 Committee.
The number of those who have already sent this letter is known only to the chairman of the committee. According to the Guardian, the figure was around 30, but part of the conservatives would have withdrawn the request based on the understanding that, in a scenario of war in Europe, it would not be the time to change the country’s leadership.
At the end of his speech on Tuesday, the prime minister again cited the war in Ukraine and treated the public reaction to the “partygate” as a stimulus for him to “deliver the priorities of the British people” and “respond, in the best traditions of our country, to to Putin’s barbaric attack on Ukraine”.