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Boris Johnson tries to change subject from 'partygate' woes

Johnson's opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust the prime minister by his own party

UK PM Boris Johnson. Photo: ANI

UK PM Boris Johnson. Photo: ANI

AP | PTI London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was marking the second anniversary of Brexit on Monday by touting the economic opportunities outside the European Union and trying to change the subject from a scandal over lockdown-breaching government parties.
The U.K. officially left the now 27-nation bloc on January 31, 2020, though it remained part of the EU's economic structures for another 11 months.
Since then, the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic has obscured the economic ructions caused by the end of frictionless trade with Britain's biggest economic partner. Britain's economy is growing after entering recession amid pandemic lockdowns, but trade with the EU has fallen since Brexit introduced customs checks and other hurdles.
Johnson vowed Monday to unlock the potential of Brexit, unveiling a Brexit Freedoms Bill that the government says will slash red tape for British businesses by amending laws that were carried over from the U.K.'s years as an EU member.
In all the areas where the U.K. is strong cyber, artificial intelligence, all the cutting-edge technologies of the future we are going to make sure we do things differently and better, where appropriate, Johnson said on a visit to Tilbury, east of London, one of Britain's busiest ports. He promised to make the U.K. the number one place to do business and invest because of the freedoms that we have.
Opponents say the bill will just make it easier for the government to change laws without Parliament's approval.
The government is also promising this week to give long-awaited details of plans to level up the country by expanding economic opportunity to neglected regions.
And Johnson plans a diplomatic push to try to ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine. His office says the prime minister will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone and visit Eastern Europe this week as part of efforts to deter Russia from invading its neighbour.
Johnson's grip on power has been weakened by allegations that the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus with bring your own booze office parties, birthday celebrations and wine time Fridays.
The claims have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson's resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
Johnson has urged his critics to wait for the conclusions of an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the partygate claims. Its publication, expected last week, was thrown into doubt when the Metropolitan Police force launched its own investigation into the most serious alleged breaches of coronavirus rules.
The force said it had asked for Gray's report to make only minimal reference to the events being investigated by detectives to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.
Johnson's opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust the prime minister by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers say they will push for a no-confidence vote if Gray finds Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.
Johnson has promised to publish Gray's report in full and to address Parliament about its findings. He has denied personal wrongdoing and said he has absolutely no intention of resigning.
Asked Monday if he had done anything wrong, Johnson said: You're going to have to wait and see the outcome of the investigations.

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First Published: Jan 31 2022 | 6:17 PM IST

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