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British PM Boris Johnson under 'partygate' pressure

Revelations have seen Tories slump in the polls and calls mount for Johnson to step down.



Reuters
Reuters

By AFP

Published: Wed 19 Jan 2022, 3:53 PM

Last updated: Wed 19 Jan 2022, 4:46 PM

Boris Johnson has long had a socially distanced relationship with the truth, but the UK prime minister’s devil-may-care insouciance was pivotal to his Conservative party’s staggering election win in 2019.

For his many critics, the truth is finally catching up with a politician once described by former prime minister David Cameron as a “greased piglet” for his ability to escape political scrapes.

Johnson had weathered previous claims of mendacity, but is having a harder time shrugging off allegations that his Downing Street staff were busy partying while the rest of the country endured Covid lockdowns.

Britain’s death rate from the coronavirus is second only to Russia’s in Europe, and Johnson himself nearly died in the pandemic.

He has relied on a mass vaccination campaign to inoculate his political fortunes, but the drip-feed of “partygate” revelations has seen the Tories slump in the polls and calls mount for him to step down.

Johnson, 57, became Conservative leader and prime minister in July 2019, consolidating power six months later with a landslide election victory on a pledge to “Get Brexit Done” — and reap the benefits.

But despite agreeing to a trade deal with Brussels, leaving the bloc — and ending free movement of people and workers — has been less than orderly, and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, with energy prices and inflation rocketing, Johnson faces a backlash after breaking an election promise by announcing tax rises to fill budget gaps in health and social care.

But the prime minister, who admires strong Conservative predecessors such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, remains adamant he is “levelling up” economic opportunity across Britain.

With some in his party nervous about UK-wide local elections coming up in May, Johnson is betting that his innate positivity and vows of future “sunlit uplands” still resonate with most voters.

But for a growing number, Johnson’s negatives make him unfit for office, and he has a long trail of contentious remarks in print attacking women, gays, black people and Muslims.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964. His sister said that as a child he wanted to become “world king”.

He spent part of his childhood in the EU capital Brussels, where his father Stanley worked for the European Commission. He then attended the elite Eton school in England before studying Greek and Latin at Oxford University.

In his biography “Boris Johnson: The Gambler”, journalist Tom Bower recounts the serial womanising that put paid to Johnson’s two previous marriages and his relaxed relationship with the truth.

Johnson is believed to have seven children, including two with his third wife Carrie, 33, who gave birth to a daughter last month.

He first worked as a journalist for The Times, where he was sacked for making up a quote, and moved on to become Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

There he made his name by writing “Euro-myths” — exaggerated claims about the EU such as purported plans to standardise the sizes of condoms and bananas.

Johnson then entered politics but, in 2004, he was sacked from the Conservatives’ shadow cabinet for lying about an extra-marital affair.

He rallied to become mayor of Labour-voting, staunchly pro-European London in 2008, an achievement commentators put down to his brazen refusal to respect convention.

Johnson felt torn about which way to leap in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum, famously drawing up a list of pros and cons for EU membership before throwing his political charisma behind the “leave” campaign.

His popularity, and propensity for exaggeration, helped swing the campaign, and he intervened in 2019 to end the subsequent political paralysis by seizing control of the Tories from Theresa May.

Within six months, Johnson had renegotiated May’s much-criticised Brexit deal, won the election and taken Britain out of the EU.

“Those who did not take him seriously were wrong,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time. But he accused Brexiteers of indulging in “lies and false promises”.

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Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings has now been leaking against him, including over a costly revamp of his Downing Street flat.

Cummings says he is willing to swear on oath that Johnson “lied to parliament about parties”, which if true could prove terminal even for a politician with his talent for escapology.

Johnson has denied the claim.


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