Boris Johnson in further ‘partygate’ revelation and donor criticism

Boris Johnson’s political woes deepened on Wednesday as he suffered a further revelation in the “partygate” scandal and strong criticism from a leading Tory donor over his behavior.

The UK prime minister had hoped a “reset” of his government – including a ministerial mini-reshuffle on Tuesday – would reassure his party that he was getting a grip, heading off the threat of an imminent leadership challenge.

Many Tory MPs are reserving judgment until after a police inquiry concludes into lockdown parties in Downing Street, some of them attended by Johnson, or until local elections on May 5. The House of Commons is in recess from Thursday evening until February 21.

However, Johnson came under renewed scrutiny on Wednesday when an image was published by the Mirror newspaper, showing him flanked by aides, alcohol and food during a festive quiz on December 15 2020.

The gathering, which was first revealed last year, took place as London was under so-called tier two restrictions and official guidance urged the public not to take part in office lunches or parties over the festive period.

Downing Street at the time said the prime minister “briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year”.

A spokesperson added: “Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks.”

The quiz was investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray as part of her inquiry into the conduct of Whitehall and Downing Street staff, a version of which was published at the end of January.

However, it was not included in the Metropolitan Police investigation, which is ongoing. The police are said to be reviewing about 300 photos as part of their probe.

The emergence of the image was met with criticism from opposition parties within the chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Labor MP Fabian Hamilton said the image looked “a lot like one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened”. Johnson said Hamilton had made an “error”.

Asked for clarity on Johnson’s answer to Hamilton, Johnson’s press secretary said: “My understanding is that he was referring to the fact that this was not an issue that the police had looked into. Obviously, that event was listed in the Sue Gray update and considered by the Met. ”

The Met did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier, a leading Tory donor agreed with the suggestion that Johnson was “past the point of no return”. John Armitage, co-founder of the hedge fund Egerton Capital, told the BBC he found the current situation “tremendously upsetting”.

Armitage has given the Conservatives more than £ 500,000 since Johnson became prime minister, but also donated £ 12,500 last year to the Labor party. He said leaders should quit if they lost their moral authority.

Johnson was heavily criticized this week for his false claim that Sir Keir Starmer, Labor leader, “spent all his time” as director of public prosecutions failing to prosecute late pedophile Jimmy Savile.

Johnson on Wednesday again rejected Labor calls to apologize, claiming that it would be wrong to “let the thugs and yobs who bullied and harassed” Starmer outside Westminster this week “off the hook” for their behavior.

The prime minister was also challenged by former Tory chief whip Mark Harper to promise at the despatch box that the full Gray report would be published “immediately and in full” as soon as a police investigation concluded.

Johnson said he would publish “in full” whatever report Gray gave him.

During the Commons exchanges, Starmer repeated his demand that Johnson levy a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help cut rising domestic fuel bills.

Johnson said the companies needed to make profits to pay for a “transition” to low carbon energy, including more investment in gasfields in the North Sea while the shift to greener energy took place.

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