Tories squirm amid Johnson’s absurd intervention on Downing Street party claims

British prime minister’s announcement of an investigation draws immediate ire

British PM Boris Johnson during  prime minister’s questions  at the House of Commons in London, Britain. Photograph: UK parliament/Jessica Taylor/EPA

British PM Boris Johnson during prime minister’s questions at the House of Commons in London, Britain. Photograph: UK parliament/Jessica Taylor/EPA

 

Facing prime minister’s questions in the face of evidence that he had misled MPs about a party in Downing Street last December, Boris Johnson did what came naturally. He announced a Potemkin investigation by his cabinet secretary Simon Case and threw his most loyal aides under a bus.

“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured. But I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved,” he said.

The absurdity of ordering an investigation into whether a party happened in the house where the prime minister lives and works didn’t matter. The fact of the inquiry allowed Johnson and his beleaguered press team to deflect questions about the party itself and about their own statements about it over the past week or more.

The benches behind Johnson were full but silent as Conservative MPs sat expressionless, some with their arms folded as Johnson spoke, others looking downwards in apparent embarrassment. When the prime minister tried to rally them by accusing Labour leader Keir Starmer of playing politics with coronavirus, they ignored him.

Starmer said millions of people who followed the rules while parties were going on in Downing Street now thought the prime minister was taking them for fools and that they were lied to, and he ridiculed Johnson’s announcement of an internal investigation.

“We have all watched the video of the prime minister’s staff, including his personal spokesperson [talking about a party]. They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they could not admit it and they thought it was funny. It is obvious what happened,” he said. “The prime minister has been caught red-handed; why does he not end the investigation right now by just admitting it?”

The Conservative backbenchers sitting sullen-faced behind Johnson knew Starmer was right, just as they knew how angry many of their constituents are about the video and the idea of the rule-makers partying while they made sacrifices to abide by the rules. But those backbenchers knew all about Johnson’s indifference to the truth when they made him their leader and even as they squirmed on the green benches on Wednesday, they knew that they chose him not despite it but because of it.

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