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UK PM Boris Johnson admits attending Downing Street lockdown drinks party, resists calls to resign

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized on Wednesday after admitting he attended a “bring your own booze” Downing Street garden party in May 2020, saying he believed that it was a work event at the time.

Addressing lawmakers in the House of Commons, Johnson said he wished to apologize for his actions and said he knows there are people who feel rage toward him and his government over the so-called “partygate” scandal.

“There were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility,” Johnson said.

The prime minister conceded for the first time that he had attended the Downing Street garden party on May 20, 2020, claiming he had thought the gathering to be a work event at the time. He added that in hindsight he should have sent everyone back inside.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of “months of deceit and deception” and led calls in urging the prime minister to “do the decent thing and resign.”

Starmer also described Johnson’s defense that he did not realize the event was a party as “so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British public.”

In response to numerous calls to resign — from Members of Parliament within the ruling Conservative Party and opposition lawmakers — Johnson said he did not think he should pre-empt the outcome of an internal investigation led by senior government official Sue Gray.

Details of the party first emerged on Monday, when British broadcaster ITV published a leaked email from Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. The bombshell revelation has prompted an enormous public backlash and destabilized Johnson’s premiership once again.

The email invited more than 100 Downing Street employees “to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” from 6 p.m. on May 20, 2020. The message was sent at a time when lockdown rules in England banned large outdoor gatherings.

Reynolds signed off the email by inviting staff to “bring your own booze!”

Less than an hour before the Downing Street garden party was scheduled, then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden delivered a daily Covid press conference to remind the public that they must only meet in pairs outdoors.

Sky News reported the prime minister and Carrie Johnson were both seen with about 40 staff in the Downing Street garden on May 20. Johnson’s spokesperson has refused to comment on the details.

‘Party Gate’ feels like the beginning of the end for PM Boris Johnson, professor says
It follows a string of other allegations regarding rule-breaking parties at Downing Street by Johnson and his officials and a host of other separate scandals, including the government’s awarding of lucrative Covid contracts and the refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street flat.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, has suggested that if Johnson was at the party, and he had lied about it, his position would be “untenable.” Rayner has also called for the Metropolitan Police to investigate the claims. The Met has said it is in talks with the Cabinet Office.

Beginning of the end for Johnson?
“It is important to note that this isn’t the only source of disillusionment within the Conservative Party over Boris Johnson’s leadership,” Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Wednesday.

Goodwin cited dissatisfaction among Conservative backbenches about what they see as a failure to make the most out of Brexit, disquiet over the move to raise taxes and an absence of strategy when it comes to “leveling up” — Johnson’s often-used political slogan referring to his bid to improve infrastructure in northern England.

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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern cancels her wedding amid new Omicron restrictions

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has cancelled her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, she told reporters on Sunday.

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine Covid-19 Omicron cases showed community spread from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family returned to Nelson in the South Island by plane after attending a wedding and other events in Auckland in the North Island. The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand will move to a red setting under its Covid-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing. Indoor hospitality settings such as bars and restaurants and events like weddings will be capped at 100 people. The limit is lowered to 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario. Ardern had not disclosed her wedding date, but it was rumored to be imminent.

Asked by reporters how she felt about the cancellation of her wedding to longtime partner and fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill. That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

New Zealand’s borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak as in neighboring Australia.

People able to travel to New Zealand under narrow exceptions must apply to stay at state-managed quarantine facilities. The government last week stopped issuing any new slots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

About 94% of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and about 56% of those eligible have had booster shots.

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SERAP drags Nigerian government to ECOWAS Court over undisclosed loans spending

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari before an ECOWAS Court over “secrecy in the spending of loans so far obtained, the unsustainable level of borrowing by the government and the 36 states, and the crippling debt burden”.

Last week, SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi filed a suit before ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, in which the organisation sought, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by itself, and the 36 states, in conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.”

SERAP is also seeking, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to publish details of spending of the loans obtained by governments since 1999 including the list of projects and locations of any such projects on which these loans have been spent.”

The organisation maintained that, “Persistent and unsustainable borrowing by the federal and state governments and the crippling debt burden undermine the rights of Nigerians to economic and social development, and are antithetical to the public interest.

“There is lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions in loan agreements, including repayment details for these loans. The details of the projects on which the loans are spent are shrouded in secrecy.

“Without a moratorium on borrowing, the Federal Government and many of the 36 states may be caught in a process driven mostly by creditors’ needs. 

“This will result in an exorbitant social cost for the marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population.

“The Federal Government and many of the 36 states would seem to be in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.

“The Senate and House of Representatives recently approved the loans of $5,803,364,553.50 and a grant component of $10million under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan of the Federal Government.

“This followed previous approvals by the National Assembly of $16.2 (16,230,077,718) billion loan; €1 (1,020,000,000) million and a grant component of $125 million loan; $36.8 billion, €910 million loans, and a grant component of $10 million; $8.3 billion and €490 million loans; $6.1 billion, $1.5 billion and 995 million loans; and $4(4,054,476,863), €710 million and grant component of $125million.

“Several of the 36 states are also facing a debt crisis, and vicious debt cycles. According to the Debt Management Office, the foreign debt stock of the Federal Government, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory presently stands at $37.9billion.

“The loans from China alone amount to $3.59billion. According to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Nigeria faces debt service relative to tax revenues that exceed 20 per cent, with escalating social tensions linked to poverty and inequality.

“According to the World Bank’s IDA FY21 Report, with debt exposure of $11.7billion US Dollars, Nigeria ranked fifth among the top 10 countries with highest debt risk exposure. The top four countries are India with $22billion, Bangladesh ($18.1billion), Pakistan ($16.4billion), and Vietnam ($14.1billion).”

Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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COVID-19: Nigeria records 29 fresh infections, lowest in two months

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has said that 29 people tested positive for Coronavirus on Saturday.

The figure is the country’s lowest single-day count since November 19, 2021 when 23 cases were reported.

In its latest update, NCDC said the positive cases of Coronavirus came from three states.

A breakdown of new cases showed that Lagos — Nigeria’s pandemic epicentre — recorded the highest number of new infections with 27 new positive samples, followed by Kano and Rivers with one each.

According to the agency, 40 persons recovered from the infection while 225,946 people have now been discharged.

No death figure was recorded from COVID-19 complications, leaving the death toll at 3,124.

Since the index case in February 2020, a total of 251,959 Coronavirus infections have been confirmed across Nigeria — out of which 22,889 are active cases. 

On Saturday, the Lagos government said the consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases indicates the end of the pandemic’s fourth wave in the state.

Giving a situation update via Twitter, Akin Abayomi, the state’s Commissioner for Health, said there was a reduction in positivity rates — from 29.3 percent recorded on December 21, 2021, to 1.9 percent as of January 20, 2022.

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