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Explainer: How lockdown party claims are the latest in a string of controversies for Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister is under pressure again over reports of lockdown parties in No 10

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

Reports that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his then fiancé Carrie Symonds attended a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden during lockdown have reignited uproar for a Prime Minister familiar with scandal.

On Monday, an email in which Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited Downing Street staff to the gathering in May 2020 was leaked.

It is the latest of a string of leaks and reports about lockdown parties occurring in No 10.

Up until now they have focused on the period surrounding Christmas 2020, when the country was under its second lockdown.

Anger has come from many directions, including within the Tory Party.

Backbencher Nigel Mills has warned that any senior figure who willingly attended the event could not have a position where they were responsible for setting Covid-19 policy.

“It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that. If the Prime Minister knowingly attended a party, I can’t see how he can survive,” he told BBC News.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the events and controversies during Mr Johnson’s time in the public eye.

Sleaze scandals

The Prime Minister has faced scrutiny since early 2021 over how some €134,000 worth of renovations of his Downing Street flat were paid for, while a “sleaze row” broke out over the suspension of a Tory MP.

An initial ministerial sleaze watchdog concluded in 2021 that Mr Johnson “unwisely” allowed the work on the apartment to go ahead without “more rigorous regard for how this would be funded”, but cleared him of breaking the rules.

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But on January 6 of this year, Mr Johnson issued a “humble and sincere apology” to his standards adviser for not disclosing an exchange of messages with a Tory peer where he discussed the funding of the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

The original judgement was upheld despite the missing texts.

Another sleaze row broke out in November when Conservative MP Owen Paterson was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than €120,000 per year.

The Prime Minister initially moved to prevent Mr Paterson’s immediate suspension by launching a review of the entire disciplinary system, but backed down when it was blocked by opposition parties.

The North Shropshire by-election triggered by Mr Paterson’s resignation saw the Conservative Party lose one of its historically safest seats to the Liberal Democrats.

Brexit

In December 2020, the British Government secured an 11th hour UK-EU trade deal.

But post-Brexit woes have continued in ongoing clashes with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol as well as supply chain issues that have been at least partly exacerbated by the effects of leaving the common market.

The latter hit a worrying peak in September when the UK’s fuel supply was severely disrupted by a shortage of lorry drivers.

And in December, Mr Johnson’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost resigned. In his resignation letter, Lord Frost thanked Mr Johnson and said “Brexit is now secure”, but he also said: “The challenge for the Government now is to deliver on the opportunities it gives us.

“You know my concerns about the current direction of travel.”

Dominic Cummings

In November 2020, Mr Johnson lost his controversial chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who he had to defend over his apparent breaking of lockdown rules in March 2020.

The exit of Vote Leave duo Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, the Prime Minister’s former spin doctor, was widely blamed on the influence of Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie Symonds, within No 10.

Mr Cummings came back to haunt Mr Johnson in May 2021 when he appeared before MPs for seven hours to lacerate the Government over its handling of the Covid pandemic.

He said the Prime Minister was unfit for office and suggested that Government failings led to tens of thousands of people dying unnecessarily.

Ms Symonds had been “desperate” to get rid of Mr Cummings, he told MPs.

Private life

Mr Johnson married Ms Symonds – his third wife – in May 2021. They exchanged vows in a secret ceremony at Westminster Cathedral which, according to reports, even Downing Street aides were unaware of in advance.

The pair announced their engagement and that they were expecting their first child in February 2020, three weeks before the country entered its first Covid lockdown.

On April 29, Ms Symonds gave birth to the couple’s first child, Wilfred, who became the third baby born to a serving prime minister in recent history. The couple had a second child, a girl named Romy, on December 9, 2021.

Mr Johnson met his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, while they were students at Oxford, and they wed in 1987 but the marriage was annulled in 1993.

His second marriage, to Marina Wheeler, ended after 25 years, during which they had four children.

The marriage was turbulent. In 2004 he was sacked from the Tory front bench over a reported affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt, and the Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that the public had a right to know that he had fathered a daughter during an adulterous liaison while mayor of London in 2009.

Claims that Mr Johnson squeezed the thigh of journalist Charlotte Edwardes, at a private lunch at The Spectator magazine’s HQ shortly after he became editor in 1999, overshadowed his first Conservative Party conference as PM.

Allegations about his relationship with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, and whether she enjoyed preferential treatment while he was mayor, also dominated the headlines in September 2019.

On March 27 2020, shortly after announcing his engagement to Ms Symonds, Mr Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 and on April 5 he was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. A day later he was moved to intensive care after his condition worsened.

He was discharged on April 12 – just weeks before the birth of his child Wilfred – to continue his recovery at Chequers and thanked NHS staff for saving his life.

Before becoming Prime Minister

Mr Johnson entered Number 10 despite a string of gaffes and scandals that might have ended the careers of other politicians.

Instead, he has been able to survive and prosper despite – or possibly because of – his capacity for attracting attention.

A row with Ms Symonds that saw police called to their home in the early stages of the Conservative leadership race was a glimpse into the complicated private life about which Mr Johnson tries desperately to avoid answering questions.

His previous provocative columns have prompted much scrutiny and he has been repeatedly criticised for using racially charged or offensive language.

In May 2021 an independent review into alleged Islamophobia and discrimination in the Conservative Party said Mr Johnson’s comments about women wearing the burka have given an impression that the Tories are “insensitive to Muslim communities”.

Mr Johnson was also previously criticised for his blunder as foreign secretary in the case of jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who he mistakenly said had been training journalists – comments which were seized on by the authorities in Tehran.

Mr Johnson’s ability to reach out to voters who traditionally shun the Conservatives was demonstrated by his election as mayor of London in 2008, and retention of the powerful position four years later.

And his status as a favourite of the Conservative grassroots was confirmed in the leadership election, which saw him trounce rival Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Johnson’s decision to back Brexit in the referendum was a significant boost for the campaign, giving Vote Leave the high-profile frontman it needed.

After taking office as prime minister, Theresa May made him her foreign secretary – although he resigned in July 2018 over the direction she was taking on Brexit.

An old Etonian, Mr Johnson was a member of the notorious elite dining society the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.

Although he has had his sights set on Number 10 throughout his political career, as a child he held even loftier ambitions.

According to his sister Rachel, the young Boris’s goal was to be “world king”.


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