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Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a potentially ruinous scandal that has threatened to bring down his government, but it is only the latest in his tumultuous time as the country’s leader.
Johnson has never been a stranger to controversy or scandal, earning a reputation as a Teflon politician who can shake off what might otherwise be career-ending revelations.
But the latest controversy could finally put an end to that lucky run as the mass resignations rocked Johnson’s government. Parliament canceled committee meetings as the Conservative Party does not have enough ministers to attend after some 44 Conservative ministers and aides resigned.
Here are the controversies that Johnson survived, as well as the one that could finally sink him.
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‘Partygate’ created the first dent in the Teflon coating
The most enduring and notorious controversy Johnson has quarreled with involved parties that occurred for government reasons during the most severe COVID-19 lockdown periods.
The rules of the time dictated that people could not socialize indoors except “with your family or the support bubble”. Police issued a total of 126 fixed penalty notices to 83 people in government for the gatherings, for a total of eight parties between May 2020 and April 2021.
A report by senior state official Sue Gray on the matter said Johnson at one point provided wine and cheese to staff for a May 2020 party in 10 Downing Street Gardens. At another party at the same venue, partygoers raged late into the night, ending around 4am
Another party would take place around April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth buried her husband, Prince Philip.
Partygoers drank wine, ordered four large pizzas to share, and took turns walking down a slide belonging to Johnson’s son Wilf, according to eyewitness reports and photos reviewed by The Daily Telegraph newspaper. Someone spilled wine on a copier and nearly damaged the laptop that served as the jukebox for the evening.
Promoting Chris Pincher despite allegations of sexual misconduct
Johnson promoted MP Chris Pincher to the position of deputy whip chief, one of the men responsible for aligning votes along the party lines for conservative positions.
Pincher assumed the role on February 8 this year and resigned on June 30 after allegedly groping two men at the Carlton Club in Piccadilly. Another whip received the complaint and handed it to the whip boss, Reuters reported.
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Pincher resigned from his role, but Johnson kept him in the party, insisting that the matter was “closed”.
But other allegations have surfaced, including at least one from December 2021, an issue that was raised with the whip office at the time of Pincher’s appointment. Johnson said he was unaware of any charges against Pincher at the time of his promotion. But on July 4, the prime minister’s office acknowledged that Johnson knew about it but “forgot.”
The revelation provoked an immediate backlash from his party and cabinet, with many claiming to have lost faith in their leader.
Sex scandal during his time as foreign minister
Johnson also witnessed his share of sex scandals, including an incident in 2018 in which Lord Michael Ashcroft, who had previously served as a Conservative Party Vice President, met with Johnson receiving oral sex in his office.
Johnson at the time was Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and was involved with a mistress named Carrie Symonds, a woman he later married after divorcing his wife in 2020.
The matter remained out of the news until June 18 of this year, roughly around the time of Pincher’s revelation, which elaborated on the incident. The London Times ran an article about the incident, but the article disappeared two days later, the New York Times reported.
Many believe Downing Street has moved to suppress the article, which, instead of killing the issue, has only attracted more interest.
British magazine Private Eye instead released the details on June 30, providing even more context to the story. The Private Eye report stated that Symonds’ “people” contacted the Times editor, News UK, and advised them to pull the story out.
The Owen Paterson Affair
Pincher isn’t the only person Johnson has had to defend in the face of immense criticism. In 2021, Johnson reacted to the committee’s recommendations to suspend Conservative lawmaker and former minister Owen Paterson for 30 days after committing a “egregious case of paid advocacy.”
Paterson had lobbied on behalf of several companies that had paid him, including at least two payments of £ 500,000. He has regularly “requested access to ministers and regulators” on behalf of these companies, The Guardian reported.
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The Conservative Party responded to the report by suggesting instead that Parliament change the lawmakers’ investigation mechanism, but headline damage at the time forced Paterson to resign.
The government abandoned the proposed changes in the wake of Paterson’s resignation and the party failed to regain its seat in the elections.
Johnson shuts down the government – illegally
Johnson had supported Brexit from the start and went to great lengths to ensure its success, including an unfortunate incident in which he faced allegations of misleading the queen.
He asked Queen Elizabeth II to allow him to shut down Parliament for five weeks when the government was still in discussions with the Brexit deal, unable to reach an agreement on the type of deal to pursue as time was pressing towards a deadline.
Rather than address the issue, Johnson got the Queen’s approval to shut down the government, a move the British Supreme Court later found illegal.
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The ruling has led many to accuse Johnson of misleading the queen in order to obtain closure, an issue for which he apologized for having “embarrassed” the queen by potentially forcing her to break the law.