Boris Johnson focused on Ukraine, not police questionnaire, says UK minister

Published February 13, 2022
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with members of the media during a visit to Warszawska Brygada Pancerna military base near Warsaw, Poland, February 10. — Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with members of the media during a visit to Warszawska Brygada Pancerna military base near Warsaw, Poland, February 10. — Reuters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be distracted from focusing on tensions between Ukraine and Russia by receipt of a police questionnaire about lockdown parties at his Downing Street office, a government minister said on Saturday.

The Metropolitan Police are contacting more than 50 people believed to have attended the parties to explain their involvement. On Friday, Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed he had received a questionnaire and would respond as required.

“I’ve every confidence that the prime minister will fill out this questionnaire and return it to the Metropolitan Police service as he must,” junior defence minister James Heappey told BBC television.

“But I don’t think for a second it will distract him from leading the international response at a time of acute geopolitical crisis ”, Heappey said.

“He will be reading some really very eye-opening intelligence briefs all day, every day. He and the government are in now a very regular routine of National Security Council meetings and COBRA meetings,” he said, referring to an emergency response meeting.

Police are investigating 12 gatherings held at Downing Street after an internal inquiry found Johnson’s staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties, with the British leader attending a few of the events himself.

At the time many people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital due to strict Covid-19 lockdown rules, and the revelations have sparked widespread anger. Some lawmakers in the prime minister’s own party have joined the opposition in calling for him to quit.

Johnson has apologised and promised to change the culture at the top of government after the inquiry found a “serious lack of leadership”. After five aides quit, he appointed new staff to senior roles. Johnson has seven days to respond to the questionnaire.

Police can issue a fixed-penalty notice fine, usually 100 pounds ($136), if they think Covid-19 regulations have been breached without a reasonable excuse.

Britain’s parliament is currently in recess and many lawmakers will spend the next week or so in their constituencies. If he is found to have broken his governments own rules, the embattled prime minister could be fined and will face even more pressure to stand down from fellow lawmakers already furious at his proximity to the partygate affair.

A growing number of lawmakers from his own party are calling for his ouster, and even former leaders have lined up to warn him against attempting to cling to power if he is found to have broken rules.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said it would be very tough to hang on if the police find that Johnson broke the law, while former Prime Minister John Major accused Johnson and his government of treating the truth as optional and shredding the UK’s global reputation.

The prime ministers office confirmed in a statement that he had been contacted by police. It comes with tensions boiling in Ukraine, and UK nationals warned to evacuate the country over the possibility of a Russian invasion.He also allegedly attended a gathering organised by his wife, Carrie, in the official Downing Street residence, during which ABBA songs were reportedly heard.

The police force has written to about 50 people, including the prime minister and his wife, asking for them to account for their activities on the dates under investigation.

The force said questionnaires must be responded to within seven days. They have the same status as information given in an interview under police caution.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2022

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