Dubai: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that he would not resign over a series of lockdown-breaking gatherings at his Downing Street office and residence, pledging to get on with the job.
Answering questions in parliament, Johnson was accused by opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer of changing his story over the gatherings and misleading parliament.
Asked if he would step down, Johnson replied: "No." "I don't deny it, and for all sorts of reasons, many people may want me out of the way, but the reason why he (Starmer) wants me out of the way is because he knows this government can be trusted to deliver," he said.
"We've taken the tough decisions, we've got the big calls right and we're and in particular I am getting on with the job."
The statement comes after weeks of fending off allegations that he and Downing Street staff breached the government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Here’s a closer look at the story so far and what lies ahead.
What is the probe against Boris Johnson?
Boris Johnson is fighting allegations that he and his staff partied at his Downing Street residence and office repeatedly breaching the government's own coronavirus restrictions by holding social gatherings, indoors and outdoors.
Some of the claims have been supported with photos, videos and email exchanges. Others rely on accounts of government sources.
An internal inquiry by Civil servant Sue Gray into these allegations could be published any time soon.
London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Britain's top officer, said on Tuesday that an investigation had been opened into a number of events "at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years" to assess whether criminal offences had been committed.
Revelations of revelry including drunk parties in Downing Street, suitcases of supermarket alcohol, a broken children's swing, a wine fridge and jokes by staff about how to present such parties to reporters, have hammered Johnson's ratings.
How many lockdown parties did Johnson and staff attend?
Quite a few, if one is to go by reports.
Here’s a look at some of them listed by the Washington Post.
1. Cheese and wine in garden
The Guardian published a photograph of a "wine-and-cheese party" that took place in the garden of Downing Street on May 15, 2020, when gatherings of more than two people were banned in outdoor public places. Visible in the picture are the prime minister, his wife, 17 staff members and bottles of wine.
Downing Street said staff were discussing work.
2. Indoor party
Johnson's private secretary, Martin Reynolds, sent an email to dozens of staffers, encouraging them to "bring your own booze" to a party on May 20, 2020 - at a time when the public was banned by law from meeting up with more than one person outside their households.
Johnson admitted attending the outdoor gathering "for 25 minutes." "In hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside, and I should have found some other way to thank them," the prime minister said.
3. Johnson's birthday
ITV News reported that Johnson's wife, Carrie, helped organise an afternoon surprise party attended by about 30 people for the prime minister's birthday June 19, 2020. Guests reportedly sang "Happy Birthday" as Johnson was presented with a cake. That same evening, the broadcaster said, family and friends gathered inside the Johnson residence.
4. Party at No. 11 Downing Street
On Nov. 13, 2020, the same day top adviser Dominic Cummings was nudged out, there was allegedly a party at the residence of Johnson and his wife, the apartment above 11 Downing Street.
According to Cummings, formal invitations were sent out. London was under Tier 3 restrictions at the time, preventing households from mixing indoors.
5. 'Impromptu' drinks inside a government office
Staff had drinks to celebrate Chancellor Rishi Sunak's spending review Nov. 25, 2020. A spokesperson for the Treasury said a "small number" of staff celebrated at their desks.
6. A leaving party
On Nov. 27, 2020, Johnson reportedly remarked on how crowded the room inside Downing Street was before giving a speech at what the Guardian reported was an impromptu farewell celebration for aide Cleo Watson.
7. Christmas party at Education Department
The Department for Education admitted holding a Christmas party Dec. 10, 2020, with staff gathering inside the building after work - despite social mixing between households being barred.
8. Recurring events on Fridays
The Mirror reported that Downing Street staff held recurring "wine time Fridays" throughout the pandemic, with staffers taking turns wheeling a suitcase to the supermarket to stock up. The tabloid published a photo of what it said was a 34-bottle wine fridge being delivered through the back door of the building Dec. 11, 2020.
9. A Christmas quiz
On Dec. 15, 2020, Downing Street hosted a Christmas quiz for staffers. A photo published by the Mirror showed the prime minister inside No. 10 reading out questions alongside one aide draped in tinsel, the other donning a Santa hat. At the time, social mixing between households was banned.
10. Dancing at the Transport Department
Staff at the Department of Transport drank and danced after work on Dec. 16, 2020, as London was placed under "very high alert" and forced into Tier 3 restrictions.
11. Downing Street Christmas party
On Dec. 18, 2020, Downing Street staff reportedly gathered to exchange gifts, sip wine and eat cheese in a rule-breaking event that was later joked about by Allegra Stratton, the prime minister's then-press secretary. Stratton tearfully resigned last month.
12. Goodbye party for a defense adviser
The Mirror claims Johnson gave a speech at a leaving event for his then-defense adviser, Steve Higham, just before Christmas 2020. Johnson was allegedly "there for a few minutes to thank him for his service," according to the report.
13. Parties during mourning
On the eve of Prince Philip's funeral, on April 16, staffers held two parties for departing colleagues at Downing Street. The next day, Queen Elizabeth II was photographed mourning her husband of seven decades by herself, because she was abiding by the coronavirus restrictions put in place by Johnson's government.
Downing Street apologized to Buckingham Palace for the "deeply regrettable" events that took place amid "national mourning" and during a time that indoor mixing was banned.
So will there be a leadership contest?
Reports of the gatherings have seen Johnson's ratings plunge, with much of the public and some of his 359 Conservative Party lawmakers calling for him to resign.
So far though, there have been fewer than the 54 lawmakers required to trigger a confidence vote that could result in a leadership contest, but patience is wearing thin.
How can UK Conservatives change their leader?
Some Conservative lawmakers in Britain are talking about ousting their leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
If Johnson does not heed calls to resign, he could be toppled through a no-confidence vote, AP reports.
Here's how the Conservative Party goes about challenging and changing leaders.
The no-confidence vote
A no-confidence vote in the party leader is triggered if 15% of Conservative lawmakers - currently 54 - write a letter to Graham Brady, head of a powerful group of Conservative legislators known as the 1922 Committee. It is called that because it was founded by lawmakers first elected that year to consolidate their power inside the party.
Letters can be delivered in person, by post or by email, and no one but Brady knows how many letters he has already received.
If Brady receives 54 letters, he will call a no-confidence vote, to be held within hours or days, in which all 359 Tory legislators can cast secret ballots. Johnson would need 180 votes to win. If he gets that many votes, there could not be another challenge for a year.
If Johnson loses, he would resign and a party leadership contest would be held in which he would be barred from running. He would remain party leader and prime minister until a replacement is chosen.
The leadership contest
Conservative leadership contests have two stages. In the first stage, Conservative lawmakers hold an initial vote on all the candidates. The candidate with lowest number of votes drops out, and voting continues until there are two contenders left.
If there are only two candidates, they proceed to the second stage. In that part, the final two candidates are put to a vote of the full party membership across the country.
In the last leadership contest in 2019, a field of 10 candidates was whittled down to Johnson and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Johnson won handily with about two-thirds of postal votes cast by party members.
The winner of the vote becomes Conservative Party leader and prime minister, without the need for a national election.
Who could be Britain's next prime minister if Johnson is ousted?
The finance minister is the bookmakers' favourite to be Britain's next prime minister. He has been praised for a rescue package for the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention programme, which prevented mass unemployment, that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($559 billion).
However, support for the 41-year-old has slipped in recent months among rank-and-file Conservative members, who would vote to elect which of the final two candidates would win the party's top job in a leadership election.
Sunak's tax-and-spend budget in October put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favour lower taxes.
The former Goldman Sachs banker has only offered Johnson tepid support since he apologised for the lockdown parties.
Sunak abruptly ended a broadcast interview on Tuesday when asked if he "unequivocally" supported him.
Almost half of Conservative members believe that Sunak would make the best future leader, the highest support of any potential candidate, a poll by Opinium published this week found.
The foreign secretary is the darling of the Conservatives' grassroots and regularly tops the poll of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home.
Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.
The 46-year-old spent the first two years of Johnson's premiership as international trade secretary, championing Brexit, and last month was appointed as Britain's lead negotiator with the European Union.
Truss is also known for bizarre political interventions. A 2014 speech to the Conservatives annual conference went viral after she angrily declared: "We import two thirds of our cheese.
That. Is. A. Disgrace."
The former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership.
Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government.
Hunt told The House political magazine in an interview this week that his ambition to become prime minister "hasn't completely vanished".
The current health minister, 52, came fourth in the last leadership contest.
Javid, a second-generation immigrant of Pakistani heritage, has served a number of cabinet roles, including as finance minister, and scores consistently well in polls of party members.
He is a minister who is described by several public servants who worked for him as decisive and clear.
The deputy prime minister has held top roles in government, including serving as foreign minister and Brexit Secretary.
Raab, 47, stood in for Johnson as acting prime minister after Johnson caught COVID-19 early in the pandemic and was admitted to intensive care.
But he was heavily criticised for remaining on holiday during the Taliban's recapture of Afghanistan in August last year and was demoted to justice secretary.
At least seven backbench Conservative MPs have called publicly for Johnson's resignation.
But cabinet ally Jacob Rees-Mogg warned wavering Tories that any successor would face strong pressure to call a snap election - a perilous step with Labour surging to a double-digit in opinion polls.
- with inputs from AP, AFP and Reuters