Boris Johnson, the UK PM dogged by sleaze and scandal

Team surrounding prime minister starts to disintegrate, fuelled by doubts over his integrity

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's team began deserting him after he found himself wrapped up in more controversy.

He suffered a series of resignations, from Cabinet ministers to junior aides, before Sajid Javid, his health secretary until Tuesday evening, delivered a stinging resignation speech in the House of Commons. He criticised Mr Johnson's integrity and said leadership must start at the top.

The latest drama followed Mr Johnson's handling of the Chris Pincher affair, which could be the final nail in the prime minister's political coffin.

Only a month ago, Mr Johnson won a vote of confidence in the House of Commons but it looks increasingly likely that that will not be enough to save him.

Here, The National sums up the blunders, scandals and rows that have dogged his premiership.

'Pincher by name, pincher by nature'

Chris Pincher in Downing Street, London. PA

Chris Pincher resigned from his role as Deputy Chief Whip after allegations that he had groped two men, including a colleague, while intoxicated.

Mr Johnson insisted the resignation was punishment enough for a man, known for his loyalty to the prime minister, and that no more action was needed. A day later, Mr Pincher was suspended from the party and an investigation began.

Mr Johnson has said he had not been aware of previous questions over Mr Pincher’s reputation for similar incidents — a comment that later needed clarification.

Dominic Cummings, a former aide of Mr Johnson, said the MP was referred to as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” before his promotion to the whip’s office in February.

As new details emerged, No 10 Downing Street claimed that Mr Johnson merely failed to remember he had been told Mr Pincher was the subject of an official complaint about his conduct.

A week after the scandal broke, the prime minister's spokesman said Mr Johnson was briefed on the complaint by officials at the Foreign Office in 2019, a "number of months" after it took place. Downing Street officials had previously claimed Mr Johnson had not been aware of any "specific allegations".

The admission came only after Lord McDonald, a former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, said the original No 10 account was "not true" and the prime minister had been briefed "in person".

It is also the second time Mr Pincher has been forced to resign from the whip’s office, after doing so in November 2017 after complaints that he had made an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story.

Partygate

Partygate, a name given to a series of Covid lockdown-breaking parties held in the heart of government, is the scandal that has come closest to costing the prime minister his job.

Workplace parties with alcohol were staged at government departments and at No 10, where Mr Johnson works and lives, while the rest of the country was forced inside households, with social mixing banned, as part of the effort to beat the spread of the coronavirus.

Initial defences included that the parties were not parties, that Mr Johnson had only briefly attended or that he was not aware of them.

Eventually, Mr Johnson would become the first UK prime minister in office to be issued with a police fine. His wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were also fined. In total, 126 fixed penalty notices were given to 83 people.

Ethics chief Lord Geidt issued a new exchange of letters in which he suggested the prime minister’s fine may have breached the Ministerial Code, a move that would normally force a minster to resign. Soon after, he became the second ethnics adviser to quit, suggesting that Mr Johnson had sounded out his views on a tariff decision that would breach World Trade Organisation rules and international law.

Covid-19 strategy

Mr Johnson was widely criticised for failing to attend five government crisis response meetings in early 2020, as the coronavirus was beginning to spread.

He refused to sack his chief adviser Dominic Cummings over his notorious trip to Barnard Castle to “test his eyesight” while the country was in lockdown.

Mr Johnson came under fire for the chaotic way Christmas was cancelled for millions after the discovery of the Alpha variant and his slow response when the Delta variant was identified in India.

He reportedly said he would rather see bodies “piled high in their thousands" than order a third national lockdown, and was criticised for his reluctance to wear a face mask in Parliament.

Covid betrayal

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves Downing Street, in London, Britain, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley

The prime minister stood by then health secretary Matt Hancock after he was caught breaking social distancing rules by beginning an affair with aide Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office.

Anti-lockdown protesters marching through London carried placards calling for Mr Hancock's resignation. Other demonstrators pelted Downing Street with tennis balls.

Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo lost their jobs as the government struggled to contain public anger at what was seen as double standards between what government leaders expect of others and what they themselves do.

The Downing Street flat

Boris Johnson lives in the Downing Street flat with his wife Carrie. AP

Mr Johnson was accused by Mr Cummings of secretly trying to arrange for wealthy Tory donors to pay for a lavish £112,000 revamp of his official flat in Downing Street.

After an inquiry, Lord Geidt, then his new adviser on ministerial interests, accepted that Mr Johnson had not known what was going on and when he found out, he paid for the work out of his own pocket.

Lord Geidt reacted angrily when he learnt later that Mr Johnson had exchanged WhatsApp messages with one of the donors involved, although he said it would not have changed his final conclusion that there was no breach of the Ministerial Code.

In a separate investigation, the Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party £17,800 for failing to properly declare a donation, part of which was originally used to help pay for the revamp.

On January 6, Mr Johnson was criticised by his ethics adviser for another scandal about attempts to raise funds from donors to refurbish his Downing Street flat. At that time, Lord Geidt said Mr Johnson had acted “unwisely” but cleared him of being deliberate misleading during the investigation.

The holiday

Mr Johnson was reprimanded by parliament’s committee on standards for failing to “establish the full facts” about a free holiday in Mustique that was paid for by a party donor.

He listed the stay as being paid for by a British telecoms entrepreneur and party donor in an official parliamentary register but the businessman David Ross denied paying the cost of the villa in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

A report into the holiday found Mr Johnson “sought and was offered” the use of Mr Ross’s villa.

Lobbying

Owen Paterson resigned as the MP for North Shropshire. PA

Mr Johnson’s handling of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal triggered an angry public backlash.

The prime minister at first backed Mr Paterson, a former Cabinet minister, after the House of Commons Standards Committee had found him guilty of breaking rules on paid lobbying by MPs.

Downing Street backed down within 24 hours from whipping Conservatives to support an overhaul of the standards system rather than suspending Mr Paterson as had been recommended.

Priti Patel

Sir Alex Allan, Mr Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, quit after the prime minister overruled his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.

He said he did not accept that Ms Patel — a fellow Brexiteer — had breached the Ministerial Code, which would normally mean a requirement for her to quit.

Journalism

In 1988 Mr Johnson was sacked from his first job in journalism as a graduate trainee on The Times for fabricating a quote.

In 1995 a recording emerged of a telephone conversation in which he agreed to provide an old friend, Darius Guppy, with the address of a journalist who was investigating him so that he could have him beaten up to the extent of “a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib or something like that”.

Mr Johnson said he did not pass on the information.

As a columnist on The Daily Telegraph, he was accused of racism and homophobia for descriptions of Africans and gay men.

In 2018, he caused further controversy with an article for the paper in which he described Muslim women as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was invited to 10 Downing Street after her release from an Iranian prison. Getty

In 2017, Mr Johnson was accused of worsening the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe — the British-Iranian dual citizen held in Tehran on spying charges — after he wrongly claimed she was in the country teaching journalism.

After his comments, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who had always maintained she was in Iran on holiday with her young daughter, was brought before a court in Iran and accused of engaging in propaganda.

Standards

After his resignation as foreign secretary, Mr Johnson was forced to apologise to Parliament for failing to properly declare outside earnings, which totalled more than £50,000, on nine separate occasions.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found the failings were not inadvertent and showed a lack of regard for the rules of the House.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 8:43 PM
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