Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson on three fronts

Parties, funding and a rebellion from MPs over Covid rules add to UK PM's woes

Boris Johnson has come under enormous pressure amid a scandal over a lockdown-breaking Christmas party at Downing Street. He is pictured arriving at University College Hospital in London on Thursday where his wife Carrie gave birth to their second child. AP

Pressure piling on Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson over a lockdown-breaking Christmas Party at Downing Street was compounded as it emerged his press chief attended the gathering.

Mr Johnson’s authority has been dealt a serious blow by the scandal which has so far resulted in one resignation amid a continuing investigation.

It coincides with a potential rebellion from dozens of his MPs over tougher Covid-19 restrictions, as well as a row over the funding of refurbishment at his Downing Street flat.

It was claimed on Thursday night that Jack Doyle, the Conservative prime minister’s director of communications, attended the bash on December 18 when Covid restrictions prohibited social gatherings.

He is said to have made a speech to as many as 30 members of the press team and handed out gifts at the party, where food and drink was served.

Revellers partied into the early hours of the morning, according to the BBC.

The latest development in the Number 10 party saga piles more pressure on Mr Johnson to provide answers to questions which have been asked since the story broke last week.

Mr Johnson had repeatedly denied any party took place in Downing Street, saying coronavirus guidelines are followed at all times. But after a leaked video showed his then press secretary joking about the celebrations he said he was “furious” and “sickened”, and ordered his cabinet secretary to investigate the matter.

Allegra Stratton, his former press secretary turned spokeswoman for Cop26, tearfully apologised to the British public for laughing about social distancing rules and resigned from the post on Wednesday.

Boris Johnson is imposing 'Plan B' measures on millions of people in the run-up to Christmas. The rules will mean vaccine passports are required at large venues and face masks must be worn in some indoor settings. Reuters

The scandal surrounding the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s 11 Downing Street flat is proving to be another thorn in his side and on Thursday the Conservative Party was fined £17,800 for breaking the rules on reporting donations.

The penalty levied by the Electoral Commission came after an internal investigation conducted by Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s standards adviser, into the matter.

Lord Geidt was reportedly on the verge of resigning on Thursday night amid concerns he had been misled by Mr Johnson. The Telegraph said he was planning to quit if Mr Johnson failed to satisfactorily explain why he did not share vital evidence with him when he investigated the donations earlier this year.

A recent YouGov poll conducted for The Times showed backing for the Conservatives had plummeted to its lowest level in almost a year as voters grow ever more frustrated with the ruling party.

The poll showed support was down by three points to 33 per cent — the lowest rate recorded since January. Labour was up four points at 37 per cent.

Former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, now known as Lord Barwell, who served as ex-prime minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, warned that any defence claiming Number 10 parties were merely weekly staff gatherings with some cheese and wine thrown in would probably “struggle as an explanation” for rule-breaking.

“It might have been possible if the government’s immediate reaction to the allegation had been to set out exactly what happened and use that defence,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Lord Barwell said there is “genuine anger” among the public over the “hugely toxic” allegations.

He said he found it “very distressing” that his mother had to spend Christmas Day alone due to Covid restrictions and said the party suggested there were “different rules for the people making the rules than the rest of us”.

Mr Johnson announced England would be moving to “Plan B” Covid restrictions late on Wednesday, a move which critics dismissed as a distraction tactic.

Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani, vice chairwoman of the 1922 committee, said she had serious concerns over the new set of measures. The latest round of rules mean face masks will be required in some indoor public places, people will have to work from home if possible, and vaccine passports will be required at large events.

She said the mood in parliament is “not good” and that it was “not easy to listen to” the health secretary lay out the rules.

“I’m yet to see how the facts stack up,” Ms Ghani told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We’re asking people to take action which in my constituency of East Sussex will have a huge impact, not only on the economy but that means people’s livelihoods, but I’m also anxious what that means to people’s access to other health care.

She said she fears the government has failed to take into account the impact the new curbs could have on people’s mental and physical health and their jobs.

If Mr Johnson fails to get enough votes from MPs in his own party, he will have to rely on support from the opposition Labour Party to get his Plan B measures through parliament.

Updated: December 10th 2021, 10:17 AM