Boris Johnson’s long history of demanding other people resign
The prime minister has refused to step down after being fined by the Metropolitan Police over partygate
Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to resign as prime minister, following news that he has been fined by the Metropolitan Police over partygate – having broken his own lockdown laws.
Between May 2020 and April 2021, while the rest of the UK made sacrifices to adhere to the government’s COVID restrictions, at least 16 parties are alleged to have taken place in Westminster.
Johnson is reported to have attended a fair few of these parties – including one held in Number 10 to celebrate his own birthday, on 19 June 2020. That day, the country was in its first national lockdown, with indoor gatherings of two or more people banned and 55,270 COVID-related deaths recorded across the UK up to that point.
Now, Johnson, his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and his wife, Carrie Johnson, have all been handed fixed-penalty notices relating to the birthday party. Though the prime minister has indicated that he won’t step down, history shows us that he does in fact understand why a person should quit after a wrongdoing – and has even often encouraged them to do so.
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Here are just a few of the times Johnson has publicly supported calls for other people to resign from their posts.
1. Government scientist Neil Ferguson
Back in March and April 2020, just weeks into the first COVID lockdown, the epidemiologist and government scientist, Professor Neil Ferguson, broke restrictions to see a ‘lover’. When his rule-breaking was exposed in May of the same year, Ferguson admitted making an “error of judgement” and said he regretted “undermining” social-distancing guidance.
At the time, a spokesman for Johnson said the prime minister agreed with Ferguson’s decision to resign from SAGE, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
- Health secretary Matt Hancock
Last June, health secretary Matt Hancock came under pressure to resign from government after breaching social-distancing guidance. Footage published by The Sun showed Hancock kissing his aide, Gina Coladangelo, in his Department of Health ministerial office on 6 May.
When Hancock did eventually resign following an initial refusal, Johnson hinted he had encouraged the move, saying: “I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic.”
Johnson's comments came after his own spokesperson said the matter had been “closed” following an apology. When the disgraced health secretary finally quit, Johnson was accused of “rewriting history” by implying he had encouraged him to resign.
3. P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite
Last month saw widespread calls for the CEO of P&O Ferries, Peter Hebblethwaite, to step down after 800 staff members were sacked without warning and replaced by people paid £5.50 an hour. Hebblethwaite admitted the company had breached employment law by not consulting unions ahead of the firings.
A Number 10 spokesperson said Johnson supported transport secretary Grant Shapps in urging Hebblethwaite to resign after his “brazen” and “breathtaking” violation of the law.
4. Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt
Writing for the Observer in 2014, Tristram Hunt, then Labour’s shadow education secretary and a historian, accused the government of rewriting “the historical record and sow[ing] political division” over the cause of the First World War.
Johnson, then the mayor of London, called for Hunt to resign, saying German militarism was at the root of the war and Hunt’s claims to the contrary showed he was “not fit” to be in charge of history in schools.
5. Met Police boss Paul Stephenson
Cast your mind back to the phone-hacking scandal that led to the demise of the News of the World in 2011. Police identified an estimated 4,000 victims of the paper’s hacking, including politicians, celebrities and sports players.
The scandal saw Paul Stephenson, then the chief of London’s Met Police, step down from his post following allegations of inappropriate links with a News of the World executive. Boris Johnson said he made the “right call” by resigning.
In 2018, Theresa May faced a fierce backlash in Parliament over her draft Brexit deal, including from one particularly vocal critic: Johnson, who would go on to be her successor.
That July, Johnson himself resigned as foreign secretary over the deal, claiming May was leading the UK into a “semi-Brexit” with the “status of a colony”. Four months later, he called for all other cabinet ministers to follow his lead in quitting.
At the time, Kate McCann, a Sky News correspondent, tweeted: “Boris Johnson tells me he wants to see Cabinet resignations tonight over Brexit deal. Calls for them to get tough – now is the time.”
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