Just when it seemed as though U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson might have escaped the worst fallout from his relentless COVID-lockdown partying, more photos have emerged to remind the British public of his relentless COVID-lockdown partying.
On Monday, ITV News published four photos of Johnson that show him making a toast at a gathering at 10 Downing Street on November 13, 2020, at the beginning of a strict lockdown period the PM himself had instituted days earlier. The occasion was the departure of Johnson’s communications head, Lee Cain. Bottles of liquor and various snacks line the table in front of Johnson as he carouses with unidentified fellow partygoers at a time when the rest of the country was forbidden from any household-to-household contact.
The truth-bending PM had been asked in Parliament about whether there was a party on November 13, 2020, and he responded, “No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.” Johnson also told Parliament that “all guidance was followed completely” at 10 Downing Street throughout the pandemic. It turns out Johnson may not be completely on the level. Who knew?
The pictures come ahead of a long-anticipated report from Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating Johnson and his underlings’ many lockdown breaches, which is expected to drop in the next few days.
It’s difficult for the casual observer to keep track of all the alleged offenses Johnson committed in the course of a scandal the British media has unimaginatively dubbed “Partygate.” But a multitude of confirmed or alleged shindigs took place at 10 Downing Street during the pandemic (not all of them with BoJo in attendance), including a garden party in the opening weeks of lockdown, a BoJo birthday party, and a Christmas party during which Johnson personally administered a pub quiz.
The Metropolitan Police opened an investigation into the gatherings earlier this year and ended up issuing 126 fines to 83 people. BoJo was fined only once, for the birthday party. One fine went to his wife, Carrie Symonds, and one went to Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been thought of as a possible Johnson successor. The police were already aware of the November 13 party and had chosen to fine others for the violation but not Johnson — adding to a chorus of criticism that it had been too cautious in its probe and too easy on the PM.
Partygate (really, can’t we come up with a non-gate-suffix scandal name?) has severely tested Johnson’s reputation as a Teflon politician who can survive scandals that would destroy a normal one. So far, he has passed the test thanks in part to the war in Ukraine, which he has used to cast himself as a serious statesman, and to allies who have largely stuck by him despite everything. But he does appear to have sustained some damage. He has faced calls for resignation from a small group of Tory lawmakers, his approval rating is dismal, and his party lost ground across the U.K. in recent local elections. Given that Johnson’s bad behavior is already so widely known, the new photos are unlikely to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But he’s now certainly loaded up with straw.