Boris Johnson

Downing Street “partygate”: is Boris Johnson actually attempting to gaslight us all?

The prime minister has come under criticism on social media for failing to properly address his role in the “partygate” scandal during yesterday’s PMQs.

It all started with a Christmas party. At the end of November last year, reports emerged claiming that staff had attended parties at Number 10 during the 2020 festive season – the first of a long list of social events which would be unveiled during various leaks over the following months.

But none of these reports hit quite so hard as the one that emerged on 11 January. This time, a leaked email surfaced showing the prime minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting as many as 100 people to “socially distanced” drinks in the garden of Number 10 on May 20, 2020, when England was still in the midst of the first full coronavirus lockdown.

At PMQs the next day, after social media had erupted in outrage, Boris Johnson was forced to apologise and admit that he had attended the gathering for 25 minutes before returning to his office – but insisted that he thought the gathering was a “work event” and asked that further discussion was left until the results of Sue Gray’s investigation into the scandal was concluded.  

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One week later, however, and things haven’t calmed down – in fact, they’ve only hotted up. On Monday (17 January), the prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed the prime minister had been warned that the event on 20 May was in breach of Covid-19 rules (something Johnson has since denied happened, despite the fact that he made the rules in the first place). 

And yesterday (19 January), Johnson returned to the House of Commons for another PMQs, during which he failed to address many of the concerns brought up by members of the opposition and his own party.

Time and time again, Johnson reiterated his response that people should wait for the results of Sue Gray’s inquiry before asking him to resign or explain the events that took place in Number 10 almost two years ago – despite it being pretty clear that Covid-19 rules were broken. 

The question that the Conservatives seem to want Gray’s report to decipher is whether or not Johnson knew it was a work event – something many feel is an attempt by Johnson to avoid having to take responsibility for the chaos. 

It’s hardly surprising, then, that a number of people have taken to social media to call out the prime minister for gaslighting the British public – including the Green Party’s deputy leader, Amelia Womack.

“Boris Johnson reminds me of these signs of gaslighting whenever he speaks, and it’s especially true in today’s PMQs,” she wrote alongside an image outlining the key signs of gaslighting, including ‘they deny they said or did something even when you have proof’ and ‘you constantly feel like you have to defend reality’. 

“Watch out for these signs in both a partner and a prime minister.”

Other tweets echoed Womack’s opinion, with one calling Johnson an “expert in gaslighting”. 

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what Sue Gray’s report actually finds. If it does reveal that Boris Johnson was at other parties besides the one on 20 May – or that he knew the party wasn’t a work event – he could be found to have lied to the House of Commons, which is a breach of the ministerial code. People who violate these rules are expected to resign.

There’s also a chance that Johnson’s party will turn against him before that is necessary. In a dramatic turn of events during today’s PMQs, Tory MP and former minister David Davis said he “expected [his] leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take” and called on the prime minister to go “in the name of God”, just hours after another Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour.

However, so far, just five MPs have publicly admitted to sending a vote of no confidence letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady – a total of 54 are needed to trigger a vote.

If one thing’s for sure, it’s a tumultuous time to be Boris Johnson, and it’s impossible to predict what next week’s PMQs could bring. 

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