Boris Johnson faces fresh pressure over photos of lockdown party

The photos show British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Bloomberg) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing criticism from some of his Conservative Members of Parliament, after pictures emerged of him drinking at a Downing Street gathering when Britain was under lockdown.

The photos, published by ITV News on Monday (May 23), show Mr Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table laden with bottles of alcohol and party food. They were taken at an event for Mr Johnson's former communications chief Lee Cain on Nov. 13, 2020, ITV said.

The images have put a renewed focus on the so-called partygate saga, which has rocked Mr Johnson's premiership for months. While the pressure had receded as attention shifted to Russia's war in Ukraine, there is still residual anger in the Tory party even if the threshold to trigger a no-confidence vote - 15 per cent of Conservative MPs - still looks unlikely for rebels to overcome.

Mr Roger Gale, a long-standing critic, reiterated his demands for Mr Johnson to resign, arguing that the prime minister had misled Parliament.

Mr Peter Aldous, speaking on GB News, also renewed his call for Mr Johnson to go.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, who has called for Mr Johnson to quit before retracting, said that "to most, these pictures seem unjustifiable and wrong".

"It's absolutely clear that there was a party, that he attended it, that he was raising a toast to glass one of his colleagues," Mr Gale said on Times Radio. "Honourably, there is one answer."

For Mr Johnson, the issue is not the views of Mr Gale and others who have made clear their position on his leadership. The question is how many minds will be turned in his party by the images and the publication this week of the internal investigation into partygate by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Four Conservative MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted Mr Johnson would be okay, saying it was time to move on from the saga and focus on other things. Two others said the photos would create problems for him.

The immediate challenge for Mr Johnson is how he can reconcile the photos with his various statements. In December 2020 - after the photos were taken -Mr Johnson said in the House of Commons that "all guidance was followed completely" in 10 Downing Street.

Asked specifically about the November event for his former staffer, he said: "I'm sure whatever happened the guidance was followed, the rules were followed at all times."

Misleading statements - if they are made deliberately - are considered a breach of the ministerial code and are normally a resignation matter. Mr Johnson also faces a parliamentary investigation into whether he has lied about the scandal and that inquiry will begin once Ms Gray's report is published.

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