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U.K. PM Boris Johnson defies leadership challenge over 'partygate'

Published : Jan 20, 2022 15:36 IST T+T-
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson endured a heated session of Prime Minister's Questions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson endured a heated session of Prime Minister's Questions.

Johnson faces a possible leadership challenge as lawmakers from within his own party push to remove him.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on January 19 faced a possible leadership challenge from within his own ranks over the so-called partygate affair. Johnson — elected with an 80-seat majority in December 2019 — now finds himself mired in scandal over parties that took place at his Downing Street residence while the rest of the country was under a strict coronavirus lockdown.

What is the pork pie plot?

The rebellion within the Conservative Party has been dubbed the "pork pie plot" because one of the alleged rebels is the member of Parliament for Rutland-Melton, the home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Pork pie is also London rhyming slang for a lie. To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 out of the 360 Conservative lawmakers in Parliament would have to write letters of no-confidence to the chairman of the party's 1922 Committee.

The pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on January 19 that some 20 members were planning to submit letters, while several others say they have already sent them. The right-leaning Times counted 58 Conservative members who had openly criticized Johnson. DW 's Charlotte Chelsom-Pill said Johnson’s position appeared precarious. "It's not clear yet how close to the threshold of calling for a no-confidence vote the prime minister is, but, if you listen to members of the opposition who’ve been on the airwaves today, they think it’s not a question of if the prime minister goes, but when," she said.

Polls show a hemorrhaging of support for the Conservative Party, amid a succession of revelations about Downing Street parties. Some lawmakers — particularly those in so-called "Red Wall" seats — face losing their seats at the next election, and blame Johnson personally. The term Red Wall refers to those constituencies, particularly in the North of England, that are normally Labour seats but where voters were in favor of Brexit. The Conservatives won many at the last election with a promise to "Get Brexit Done."

Feisty Prime Minister's Questions

Johnson faced scrutiny at a particularly heated weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday and said he did not plan to resign. He denied an accusation by his former adviser Dominic Cummings — sacked by Johnson in November 2020 — that he had lied to Parliament about a lockdown party. Johnson said nobody had warned him the "bring your own booze" gathering might contravene lockdown rules.

During the session, leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer ridiculed Johnson's excuses that he believed one of the gatherings he attended was a work event. "As he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches — he didn't realize it was a party? Does the prime minister realize how ridiculous that sounds?" Starmer said. "Every week, the prime minister offers absurd and frankly unbelievable defenses to the Downing Street parties, and each week it unravels," he added. Starmer said Johnson was "defending the indefensible" over the parties. These included two held as Britain was in mourning for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's husband of 73 years.

'In the name of God, go!'

Pressure on Johnson grew as one Conservative lawmaker defected to Labour. The member, Christian Wakeford, said the prime minister was "incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.'' A former Conservative Cabinet minister who served alongside Johnson under Prime Minister Theresa May also had strong words for him. "I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take," former Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament. "You have sat there too long for the good you have done. In the name of God, go," citing a 1940 quote by backbench lawmaker Leo Amery to then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain over his handling of World War II. The quote is also attributed to Oliver Cromwell in a speech dismissing sitting members of Parliament in 1653.

rc/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)