A second consecutive day of almost unilaterally negative coverage by the press of Boris Johnson features widespread calls for his resignation after his apology during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
Mr Johnson admitted at the beginning of PMQs he attended a lockdown party in the No 10 garden on 20 May, 2020. He offered an apology but said he thought it classified as a work event and therefore would fall within the rules.
In response to repeated calls to resign from members of opposition parties, including Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson asked an official inquiry be allowed to “establish the facts”.
Future on a ‘knife’s edge’
Much of Thursday’s media coverage focused on growing discontent within the PM’s own party.
The Guardian says his future is on a ‘knife’s-edge’, with some Conservative MPs openly calling for his resignation while others speak off-the-record.
Senior Tory backbenchers William Wragg, Douglas Ross and Caroline Nokes have openly called for Mr Johnson’s resignation, while one Conservative told the paper he “didn’t apologise for what he did but for things that may or may not have happened which he officially knows nothing about until Sue Gray tells him about it”.
Another MP said “I’ve not seen such a half-arsed apology since my child apologised for spilling all the milk”, while the paper said some MPs it spoke to were more optimistic about a potential chance for the leader to hang on.
The Daily Telegraph, where Mr Johnson once worked as a journalist, focused on reported tensions between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the PM.
The paper added to speculation Mr Sunak is eyeing the top job, and said he kept Mr Johnson “in limbo” when he said that it was right for him to apologise but kept shy of an endorsement.
“Dead man walking”
“Mr Sunak’s lukewarm message came after he failed to attend the Commons to hear the Prime Minister’s apology, instead travelling to Ilfracombe on what his advisers said was a pre-arranged trip,” the paper wrote.
The Times rounded out an encircling of the Prime Minister with the inclusion of a poll showing the Tories have fallen to their lowest poll rating against Labour in almost a decade. The paper was also leaked reports Mr Johnson told Tory MPs after PMQs that he did not believe he had personally done anything wrong.
Metro’s front page sent a clear message that the paper perceived Mr Johnson’s apology to be a half-hearted one, with the headline “Sorry… Not sorry”. The paper said one Tory backbencher called the Prime Minister a “dead man walking”.
The Daily Mirror ran a line of questioning from Sir Keir at PMQs on its front page and called the Mr Johnson a “shameless leader” fighting for his political life.
“Campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice member Hannah Brady, whose dad Shaun, 55, died just days before the No10 garden party, said MPs have a ‘moral duty’ to remove Mr Johnson if he will not quit,” the paper added.
Another line from Labour was given top spot on The Independent, with “a man without shame” running across its front page. The paper’s chief political commentator John Rentoul said a Tory MP told him the PM’s defence was not enough to save him.
The i focused on the anger from the PM’s own party, with Conservative MPs beginning to submit no-confidence letters to the leader. They need 54 such letters to trigger a leadership contest. The paper also said Mr Johnson’s excuse that he thought he was at a work event was greeted with “public derision”.
The Daily Express asked the PM to prove he can “deliver” and The Sun said Mr Johnson was just clinging on, while the Daily Star called the premier an “amnesiac” who told the country “rules are only for you little people”.
The highly anticipated PMQs session, coming after months of speculation about lockdown parties in No 10, caught the attention of much of the rest of the world’s media, too.
In the US, The Washington Post asked the question many UK news outlets have asked in recent days: Is the party really over for Boris Johnson? And The New York Times reported the “under fire” PM is on the defensive after a series of “ethical lapses”.
The German national newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung printed an opinion piece under the headline “Boris Johnson does not govern. He only plays premier” and the Italian Corriere della Sera said “even the Conservatives” are ready to kick out the “overwhelmed” PM.