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‘Partygate’ report unleashes torrent of rage against Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is fighting the political battle of his uproarious life as he defends himself against growing evidence that he held parties at Downing Street in violation of the same lockdown rules he was imposing on the rest of the country.

(CN) — The House of Commons was the scene of high emotions and political drama on Monday as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson bullishly defended himself in the face of growing evidence that he held boozy parties at Downing Street in violation of lockdown rules.

Johnson is in the midst of a bruising scandal over drinking parties he, his wife and staff allegedly held in violation of the same strict rules against socializing that they were ordering everyone else to obey in England.

Monday saw Johnson vigorously defend his actions and refuse to consider resigning. His appearance in the packed and tense parliament chamber followed the afternoon release of an abridged civil service investigation into the parties.

The report, despite it being only a 12-page summary, was scathing in its indictment of Johnson. Its findings have sparked London's Metropolitan Police to open a criminal probe into whether Johnson and his staff broke lockdown rules. The full civil service report has been withheld pending the police probe.

“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times,” the report said. “Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”

In a statement to the House, Johnson did damage control by trying to sound contrite, but trust in him is at rock bottom because he previously told parliament no parties had taken place and then said he thought they were work events.

“Firstly, I want to say sorry,” Johnson said. “I'm sorry for the things we simply didn't get right.”

He pleaded for the public and parliament to withhold judgment until the police finish their report, drawing howls of rage from the opposition benches. At one point, he insisted the report did “absolutely nothing to substantiate” the allegations against him.

Johnson pledged to make changes to the operations of No. 10 Downing Street and he fell back on his success at getting Brexit passed as reason enough for him to remain in office.

“I want to say to the people of this country, I know what the issue is,” he said. “Yes, we can be trusted to deliver... We said that we would get Brexit done, Mr. Speaker, and we did.”

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour party, tried to draw poignant parallels to the struggles of a public obeying the lockdown rules and Johnson partying in Downing Street.

“Our national story about Covid is one of people who stood up when they were tested but that will be forever tainted by the behavior of this Conservative prime minister,” Starmer said. “By routinely breaking the rules he set, the prime minister took us all for fools. He's shown himself unfit for office.”

He accused Johnson of blaming others for the “serious and flagrant breaches of lockdown.”

“He's finally fallen back on his usual excuse: It's everybody's fault but his,” Starmer said. “They go, he stays.”

“Of course he won't” resign, Starmer said, “because he is a man without shame and just as he has done throughout his life, he's damaged everyone and everything around him along the way.”

Protestors hold placards in Parliament Square as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Ian Blackford, the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National Party, got even nastier in his assault on Johnson and was forced to leave the House of Commons chamber after refusing to withdraw accusations that Johnson lied. Under the House rules, members of parliament are forbidden from accusing other members of lying.

“Nobody believes you now, prime minister, that is the crux,” Blackford charged. “No ifs, no buts, he has willfully misled parliament.”

When he was asked to withdraw his accusations, Blackford dug in and ended by saying: “It's not my fault that the prime minister can't be trusted to tell the truth.”

But Johnson isn't only facing savage attacks from rival parties. His leadership is coming under attack within the Tories too.

Theresa May, his predecessor as prime minister, said the report demonstrated “that No. 10 Downing Street was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public.”

“So either my right honorable friend had not read the rules, or didn't understand what they meant, and others around him, or they didn't think the rules applied to No. 10,” May said. “Which was it?”

Sue Gray, the top civil servant who oversaw the probe, said in the report that the gatherings “represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”

She added that parties were “difficult to justify” against “the backdrop of the pandemic” when the government “was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives.”

“At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public,” Gray said.

She said it was not for her “to make a judgment on whether the criminal law has been broken; that is properly a matter for law enforcement.”

The report focused on 12 gatherings between May 2020 and April 2021 that may have violated coronavirus restrictions.

One party on Nov. 13, 2020, took place in Johnson's apartment at No. 10 Downing Street on the same day that his chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, was forced out of office due to his own scandal involving violations of lockdown orders.

Cummings is considered a key architect of Johnson's political rise and a mastermind behind Brexit. But since being fired by Johnson, Cummings has ruthlessly attacked his former boss and he is now helping fuel the so-called “Partygate” scandal by leaking information about how Johnson allegedly ran a shoddy operation at Downing Street.

Before becoming prime minister in 2019, Johnson was known for his love of social events, drinking and humorous antics. This attitude has made him both a beloved and loathed prime minister.

One memorable tale relates to how Johnson, while serving as foreign secretary in 2018, apparently traveled without security agents to Italy to attend a party hosted by Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian-British billionaire and socialite known for holding lavish parties at a castle near Perugia. Johnson was depicted the following morning hung over and disheveled looking when he was sighted in an Italian airport, as reported by the Guardian.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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