(CN) — Boris Johnson came into Downing Street as the mop-haired bad boy of Tory politics who dreamed of becoming a new Winston Churchill. No doubt, he will go down in history as the prime minister who got Brexit done, but now he's watching all his dreams and his own premiership at risk of becoming undone by “Partygate.”
Prime Minister Johnson and his Tory party are getting swallowed up in a tidal wave of anger over revelations that Johnson and his staff held large drinking parties in Downing Street during the height of the lockdown, an apparent breach of rules. At the time, Johnson was accused of having a cavalier attitude toward the virus, which he contracted early on in the pandemic and he fell seriously ill.
During weeks of rumors and a drip-drip of leaks, he is accused of misleading parliament about the parties. An inquiry into the party Johnson attended and others that apparently took place in Downing Street has been launched.
Since the start of the pandemic, his government has been haunted by its poor handling of the crisis and for its officials breaching lockdown rules. A former health minister, Matt Hancock, resigned due to revelations his girlfriend visited him in violation of the rules. Johnson's chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, was fired for taking a long car trip to northeastern England during the lockdown.
On Wednesday, Johnson admitted during a raucous session of parliament that he attended a party in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020.
“Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize,” a visibly tired Johnson said in a brief statement prior to the opening of Prime Minister's Questions, a weekly occasion for a prime minister to take questions from parliamentarians.
Revelations about the parties have been deeply embarrassing and glaringly expose Johnson to what his critics have said all along: that he is a selfish showman with a penchant for drinking and partying with a limited ability for serious policymaking. Johnson, an upper-class Englishman and former newspaper columnist, came into office by championing Brexit, but critics warned he was a Donald Trump-like figure.
This scandal, though, seems especially egregious because Johnson seems to have made mockery of the lockdown rules he was imposing on the rest of the British public.
“The Party's Over,” blared the headline of The Sun, a tabloid newspaper and a favorite among conservative working-class Brits. On Wednesday, opposition parties in parliament enjoyed a field day in the packed House of Commons and the nation was riveted. Within his Conservative Party, known for ruthlessly taking the dagger to embattled prime ministers in the past, the machinations of finding a successor are rolling.
Wednesday was a kind of last stand for Johnson and he was forced to grovel before the House and beg for forgiveness from the nation with his political future in the balance.
“I know the rage they [the public] feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he said. “There were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.”
His statement of contrition drew howls, shouts and scorn from the opposition benches of Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.
On May 20, 2020, about 100 Downing Street staff were invited to a party in a large adjacent garden to the prime minister's building and told to bring their own drinks, according to an email leaked to ITV. About 30 people showed up.
At the time, the United Kingdom was in the midst of a coronavirus lockdown and gatherings were forbidden. The country was in the grips of Europe's worst outbreak, a state of affairs largely due to Johnson's own initial missteps in delaying restrictions and even considering to let the virus run rampant through the population to achieve so-called “herd immunity.”