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Boris Johnson faces scrutiny for attending social gatherings that broke COVID rules

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A series of social events that violated COVID-19 rules are threatening to bring down British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A former top adviser to Johnson says he warned him not to attend, but Johnson denies it. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Dominic Cummings, the former adviser, insists he warned the prime minister against attending a BYOB event in the back garden at No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence, in May of 2020. Johnson's response - never happened. Here's the prime minister speaking today to Britain's Sky News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Nobody told me and nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, it was a breach of the COVID rules or we were doing something that wasn't a work event.

LANGFITT: Nearly a year later, two additional parties were held at No. 10 Downing Street, which included wine and dancing. It was the night before the funeral for Prince Philip, the queen's husband. The next day, the queen sat alone, masked in a chapel following government rules. Here's Johnson again on Sky TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened, and I can only and renew my apologies both to her majesty and to the country.

LANGFITT: A small number of lawmakers in Johnson's Conservative Party have called for him to step down but nowhere near enough to trigger a leadership contest. Dominic Grieve, a former lawmaker whom Johnson ousted from the party over Brexit, says the Conservatives should act quickly.

DOMINIC GRIEVE: They should have the courage to get rid of him. If they do, I think they will find that the air will clear very quickly. My concern for it is that if it continues hanging on to him because they think he might be an electoral asset, I think they're going to find themselves cruelly disappointed.

LANGFITT: Grieve says if the party continues to back Johnson, voters could punish it at the polls in local elections in May. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAREN O AND DANGER MOUSE'S "LUX PRIMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.