More than two-thirds of senior U.K. lawyers believe Prime Minister Boris Johnson should resign following the ‘partygate’ scandal, according to a survey of more than 100 experienced professionals.
Of the 100+ senior lawyers canvassed, 67% said that Johnson should step down following his alleged breaches of lockdown rules during the peak of the pandemic, the survey by Law.com International finds.
Johnson has faced renewed calls to resign after the Metropolitan Police on Tuesday fined him and several other members of his cabinet, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, for their alleged participation in an event held at Downing Street in June 2020, which breached U.K. lockdown rules in place at the time.
The fallout from the scandal, dubbed ‘partygate’, has sparked much public indignation, and the legal sector is equally irked with what one respondent described as an “utterly loathsome, corrupt bunch”.
Not all agreed, however, with some respondents suggesting it was a “minor offence”, for which a “talented leader” should not be forced to resign.
‘No Moral Right to Lead Us’
“[Johnson] has misled Parliament and undermined the rule of law”, Francis Dingwall, partner at Legal Risk LLP said. “When I say ‘the rule of law’ what I mean is the principle that everyone is equal under the law, the law applies to the rule-makers as well as to the rest of us.”
He added that when his 97-year-old mother went into hospital during the lockdown, he was not allowed to accompany her, or to visit her, or to collect her.
A partner at a major law firm agreed that Johnson’s “double standards” over COVID rules when people were prevented from visiting loved ones who were dying is “not a small issue”, but rather “fundamental to whether he has the moral right to lead us”.
Dingwall believes a resignation would have a positive effect on the U.K. legal services sector, as it is “more likely to thrive in a jurisdiction where the rule of law is observed”.
Respondents were more divided on whether Sunak should also step down, with less than half of respondents (49%) saying he should.
Despite being “massively out of touch”, Sunak has shown himself “far more competent” than Johnson, one respondent said. “He doesn’t have the massive rap sheet that Johnson has. This though would be a last chance,” they added.
However, most respondents believed both Johnson and Sunak are equally culpable: “He failed to uphold the standards expected of a senior politician,” a respondent said.
‘Bigger Fish to Fry’
However, others took a more sober position.
“This was a technical minor offence, which was perhaps a bit careless but forgivable,” one partner responded. “It would be highly inappropriate to lose talented leaders for such minor offences.”
Another partner said the events “smack not of malice, but rather of good natured workplace bonhomie” and said they observed that “most of the population blurred the distinction of the rules to suit them”.
“There are bigger fish to fry,” another partner simply remarked.
In a statement on Tuesday, Johnson apologised for breaching lockdown rules and said he will resume obligations which include “ensuring that Putin fails in Ukraine, and easing the burden imposed on hard-working families caused by higher energy prices”.
Michael Scargill, London-based counsel and head of U.K. knowledge management in Shearman & Sterling’s London M&A practice, doesn’t believe that Johnson should resign, saying that people can “judge him and punish him at the next election” instead.
“Embarking on a period of political destablisation of a majority government threatens to bring with it all the ‘benefits’ of the last pangs of anti-Brexit squabbling in the previous Parliament,” Scargill added, noting that this action will not help Ukraine, the cost of living crisis or the U.K.’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
Another partner echoed that it would be “a victory for Putin” if Johnson resigned.
“We need strong leadership and not in-fighting at Westminster,” another respondent said.
However, some partners find that the Ukraine crisis is being touted as an excuse.
“He parades around the world saying that he is doing everything that he can for the Ukraine while his government has been positively hostile to the concept of taking refugees,” another partner said. “Our response is once again humiliating on the international stage.”
This is not the first time that U.K. lawyers have been split on recent choices by the U.K. government. In 2021, Dominic Raab’s appointment as justice secretary raised eyebrows, with lawyers saying the move “did not inspire confidence”.
Another respondent, while admitting Johnson had committed a breach, said it was “too trivial to warrant resignation”.