UK's Labour leader says Boris Johnson broke the law in 'partygate' scandal

At least six lawmakers in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative party have now publicly called for him to quit. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - Britain's main opposition leader on Sunday (Jan 16) accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of breaking the law, while the Conservative party's co-chairman has backed Mr Johnson to stay in office.

In the latest "partygate" development, Mr Johnson's wife Carrie was photographed on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper embracing a friend at a September 2020 party, in apparent violation of the rules on social distancing at that time.

At least six lawmakers in Mr Johnson's Conservative party have now publicly called for him to quit, while others say they are awaiting the findings of an internal inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the facts were already clear.

"I think he broke the law. I think he's as good as admitted that he broke the law," Mr Starmer told BBC television.

Ms Gray only has the remit to establish the facts, he added, calling for the police to look into a possible criminal inquiry once her report is out.

"The Prime Minister has degraded the office of prime minister and he has lost full authority not only in his own party, but in the country," Mr Starmer said.

The Labour Party has opened up its biggest lead since 2013, an opinion poll showed.

The poll by Opinium gave Labour 41 per cent of the vote share, compared with 31 per cent for the Conservatives.

The online poll of 2,005 people was conducted between Jan 12 and 14.

Government minister Oliver Dowden, the Conservatives' co-chairman, conceded that the Downing Street parties were "completely unacceptable".

But Mr Dowden backed Mr Johnson to stay in office, while stressing he would take "full responsibility" once Ms Gray releases her findings.

"I can tell you that when he responds to the House of Commons, as he has committed to do so, he will make sure that we address the kind of culture that has allowed that to happen in the first place," he told Sky News.

Conservative MPs, many of whom were spending the weekend back in their home constituencies, say they are being deluged with messages from voters outraged at the accounts of rule-breaking in Downing Street.

After weeks of denials and stonewalling, Mr Johnson this week apologised in Parliament for at least one boozy event organised by his staff which he attended in May 2020, when Britons were banned from socialising.

Two other parties were held in April 2021 as Queen Elizabeth prepared to bury Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years. Downing Street sent apologies to Buckingham Palace, calling them "deeply regrettable".

But those were not isolated events, according to Saturday's Daily Mirror, which published a photograph of a fridge being delivered to a Downing Street back door in December 2020 for "Wine time Fridays".

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