Wellingborough Labour calls for Peter Bone to retract PM partygate defence
The Wellingborough MP repeatedly defended Johnson over rule breaking allegations
By Natalie Bloomer
Yesterday it was confirmed that both the prime minister and the chancellor have been fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaking Covid rules by attending Johnson’s birthday bash in June 2020.
Now, amid growing calls for the pair to resign, the Wellingborough Labour Party is asking MP Peter Bone to retract a statement he made towards the end of last year in defence of Johnson in which he said “the prime minister was nowhere near any party ... if there was a party.”
In early December, Boris Johnson told the Commons that “all guidance was followed” in relation to alleged Covid rule breaking in Downing Street. A few days later his chancellor Rishi Sunak said he “did not attend any parties” when asked about the issue in parliament.
In the weeks that followed as evidence to the contrary stacked up, leading Conservative politicians in Northamptonshire were quick to jump to the defence of the prime minister.
The MP for Northampton North and paymaster general Michael Ellis was jeered in parliament during an urgent question on the issue when he said he had “known the prime minister for many years and he is a man of honour and integrity.”
Meanwhile as pressure grew on Johnson, Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris was rumoured to be a key player in an operation to bolster support for him and has since been promoted to chief whip.
Perhaps the most vocal of local politicians though, was Wellingborough MP Peter Bone who repeatedly dismissed claims of rule breaking at No 10 saying on one occasion that he did not recognise the birthday gathering for Johnson as a party.
Ahead of the Oundle unitary by-election in February he appeared on TV and radio suggesting that voters didn’t really care about partygate. Speaking to Newsnight about the feedback local Tories were getting while canvassing in the area at the time he said:
“When we analysed the result there was no change from the voting at the last local election…Not only does the prime minister have my support but he has that of my voters.”
The Conservatives went on to lose the by-election to the Lib Dems.
NN Journal has tried to contact the MP to ask if given the latest developments he stands by his defence of Johnson but he has not responded.
Calls to resign
In a series of tweets yesterday afternoon the Covid 19 Bereaved Families Group slammed the actions of Johnson and Sunak.
“There is simply no way either the prime minister or chancellor can continue. Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved…
“Not only that, but they have lost all credibility with the wider public, which could cost lives if new variants mean restrictions are needed in the future. If they had any decency they would be gone by tonight.”
The West Northamptonshire Labour Group is backing calls for Johnson and Sunak to resign.
Deputy leader of the group Emma Roberts said: “It is a stain on our two highest offices of state, that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and their staff thought it was appropriate to drink and party, on numerous occasions, whilst so many were making huge sacrifices to protect their friends and family…
“Despite our political differences, I know many Conservative colleagues and party members to be decent, honest people who must be asking themselves whether these are the type of people that they want to be leading their party. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak must resign, West Northamptonshire and the country deserve better than this.”
Last night Johnson said:
“I have paid the fine and want to offer a full apology..There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm, lasting less than 10 minutes, during which people I worked with passed on their good wishes. At that time it did not occur to me this might have been a breach of the rules. The police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.
“...I understand the anger many will feel that I myself fell short when it came to observing the very rules which the government I lead had introduced to protect the public. I accept in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better."