Irish Times view on Boris Johnson’s mea culpa: apology – of sorts – buys time

The prime minister’s fate rests with his own increasingly exasperated party

British prime minister Boris Johnson has belatedly delivered what he described as a “heartfelt apology” for attending a “bring your own booze” social event in his garden in May 2020. In implausible mitigation, he pleaded that he had not seen it as a party but a “work event” and that it could have been said technically to fall within official guidelines.

It was a lapse of judgment, he claimed in the Commons yesterday, but not a breach of regulations. “I accept that I should have done things differently on that evening,” he said, admitting that he had attended the event for 25 minutes. He acknowledged the understandable “rage” of the public, notably those who had felt constrained at the time to stay away from sick and dying relatives, and of their perception that there was one law for them and another for those who made the laws.

But no, he would not resign, and those who pressed him on his position were told repeatedly that the question should not arise until senior civil servant Sue Gray, currently inquiring into some five lockdown parties in No 10 Downing Street, publishes her report. With the facts already largely in the public domain, Gray, presumably, will only contribute her judgment about whether the gathering was unlawful under lockdown rules or merely, as Johnson clearly hopes, an unwise extension of the office environment into the garden. If she finds the former, Johnson will have no choice but to resign, as even cabinet ministers acknowledged yesterday.

The apology – of sorts – was the least Johnson could do but was it enough to save his skin? He has bought time which was the only tactic open to him. In the end, however, the calculation will be political not legal. The knife will not be wielded successfully by the Opposition who are already unanimous in their calls for him to go. The decision rests with his own exasperated party now increasingly believing that with the big Brexit battles done, Johnson’s run of unforced errors, and loss of public confidence outweigh his one-time merits.


Fifty four Tory MPs can force a leadership vote by writing to the backbench 1922 Committee but they can only do so once every 12 months. Picking the right time, when they would be sure to win a vote would be essential. As a result, many may prefer to wait out the May local elections.

But they face a dilemma. The grim electoral prospects of the Tories, not least in the “Red Wall” constituencies won from Labour, are unlikely to have been reversed by yesterday’s performance nor public anger to have been mollified. With bad news coming down the tracks on the cost of living, tax rises, and Brexit dislocations, the time might be right to cut and run now, although many Tories would not wish on a new leader the immediate challenges ahead of the party.