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July 7, 2022updated 03 Mar 2023 8:28am

Boris Johnson resigns: The scoops that brought down the Prime Minister

By Bron Maher and Charlotte Tobitt

Boris Johnson’s resignation as prime minister was brought about largely by a series of revelations by journalists that helped erode his party’s trust in him.

Press Gazette has put together a timeline of some of the scoops that led to the fall of a prime minister.

[COMMENT: Seven days in July when journalists brought ‘careless power’ to account]

July 2022: Chris Pincher allegations

The Sun’s political reporter Noa Hoffman broke the news – just four days after starting at the newspaper – in a splash on Thursday 1 July that Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher had resigned from his role after allegedly groping two men while drunk.

The scoop received widespread praise for its role triggering events of the subsequent week.

Hoffman tweeted on Thursday 7 July, as Boris Johnson was reportedly preparing to resign, that “I did not single-handedly bring down gov”.

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“Today is the result of a raft of scandals exposed by the UK Lobby,” she said, namechecking the Mirror’s Crerar and BBC News political correspondent Ione Wells.

Hoffman added: “The UK Lobby work so hard every single day to make sure you the public get the information you deserve to know. It is the honour of a lifetime to be part of the British press. They are the best of the best.”

On Sunday (3 July), the Mail on Sunday splashed on a report by Glen Owens and Dan Hodges claiming the PM knew about allegations against Chris Pincher two years before appointing him deputy chief whip.

A day later, the BBC’s Ione Wells revealed Johnson had been told about a formal complaint about Pincher’s “inappropriate behaviour” when he was a Foreign Office minister in 2019/20, further discrediting the PM’s previous claims he had not been made aware in advance of appointing him as deputy chief whip.

Daily Mirror editor Pippa Crerar, who previously scored many of the major Partygate scoops, tweeted on Thursday: “As Boris Johnson’s woes mount, a big shout out to Noa Hoffman and Ione Wells for their Chris Pincher scoops which – after Partygate and other scandals took them to the brink – have been final straw for many Tory MPs. The future of the women’s lobby is bright.”

Phil Hall, founder of PR agency The PHA Group and ex-News of the World editor, told Press Gazette on Thursday in response to Johnson’s downfall: “In my experience it is never the crime that brings you down it is the cover up.

“The public accepts people are human and make mistakes, but they will not accept being lies to when found out. It shows no respect for the people who put you in power.
“However painful it is being transparent allows you to move on, hiding behind a web of misleading statements does not.”

What led us here…

May 2020: Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle

In May 2020 The Guardian and Daily Mirror published a joint, multi-part scoop revealing that Dominic Cummings, then chief of staff to Boris Johnson, broke lockdown to drive to the now-infamous town of Barnard Castle during the first Covid lockdown. 

Both The Guardian’s Matt Weaver and the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar – who shall appear repeatedly in this timeline – received tip-offs that Cummings had been spotted on a walk far from London. The pair opted to collaborate. As Crerar told Vice: “It’s unusual to put aside the normal rivalry between publications, but both Matt and I had reached a place where we couldn’t go any further on our own. I felt that this story was so strongly in the public interest that we needed to get it over the line.”

The “Cummings effect” that ensued sharply eroded public support for the government, and reputedly led to a decline in trust in the government’s health messaging.

March 2021: ‘Wallpapergate’

It was the Daily Mail and reporter Simon Walters, under the editorship of Geordie Greig, that broke the story that Boris Johnson had allegedly tried to set up a charity to help pay for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat.

The prior eye-catching work of Carrie Symonds’ chosen interior designer, Lulu Lytle, contributed a name to the broader scandal of “wallpapergate”. 

Government ethics advisor Lord Geidt – who last month resigned from that role over another scandal – found that Johnson had allowed the refurbishment of his apartment in the building without knowing who would pay for it. 

Honourable mention: Matt Hancock’s affair

It wasn’t the Prime Minister’s integrity involved (except perhaps by proxy), but it was a splash.

The Sun received a phone recording of a security camera depicting then-Health Secretary (and then-married) Matt Hancock in passionate embrace with his aide Gina Coladangelo. Hancock resigned shortly thereafter.

The Sun resisted attempts to find out its source, even through a (now-dropped) investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The investigation saw the data watchdog raid the homes of suspected whistleblowers and seize six phones in their hunt for the leaker.

[Read more: ​​How The Sun landed Matt Hancock scoop (and Isabel Oakeshott missed it)]

November 2021 and January 2022: Partygate

The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar revealed at the end of November 2021 that Downing Street staff held three gatherings in November and December 2020.

It led to an avalanche of stories about other illicit gatherings by government members – including the Prime Minister – during lockdowns. ITV, the Sunday Mirror, The Guardian and The Telegraph all got in on the action.

Allegra Stratton talks about Downing Street Christmas party in leaked video. ITV News exclusive

[Read more: ITV’s Paul Brand on his Partygate scoop – ‘The outrage is unlike anything I have seen’]

Timeline of Partygate press revelations:

  • 30 November 2021: The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar reported that Downing Street staff held three gatherings in November and December 2020, when London was under tier three Covid restrictions
  • 7 December 2021: ITV released a video of then-Downing Street Press Secretary Allegra Stratton joking about a “wine and cheese” gathering held at Downing Street on 18 December 2020
  • 12 December 2021: The Sunday Mirror published a picture of the Prime Minister hosting a Downing Street Christmas quiz on 15 December 2020
  • 19 December 2021: The Guardian published photos of Johnson from 15 May 2020 at an event in the Downing Street garden where people were drinking wine and eating cheese, with “no laptops, files or notepads to take minutes on show”
  • 10 January 2022: ITV published a 20 May 2020 email sent on behalf of Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street staff, inviting them to “socially distanced drinks”
  • 13 January 2022: The Telegraph reported that there were two separate Downing Street parties on 16 April 2021, the day before the socially-distanced funeral of Prince Philip
  • 24 January 2022: ITV reported that the Prime Minister attended a surprise birthday get-together in Downing Street on 19 June 2020, allegedly attended by up to 30 people.
2022 sexual harassment claims

The Conservatives have had to deal with a number of sexual assault allegations against MPs this year.

The Sunday Times broke the news in April that David Warburton had the whip suspended over alleged misconduct in relation to drugs and sexual harassment.

Later that month, The Sun revealed a Tory MP later confirmed to be Neil Parish had been accused of watching porn in Parliament.

In May The Sun also revealed a Conservative MP, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been arrested on suspicion of rape.

June 2022: Times Carrie story

Last month, The Times revealed claims Johnson tried to appoint his then-mistress Carrie to a Government role when he was Foreign Secretary – but deleted it from later editions of the newspaper, making it go much more viral.

Downing Street later admitted it had spoken to The Times both before and after publication – but refused to say “who spoke to who”. However a spokesperson said it was not Johnson who had called the newspaper.

The story was broken by Simon Walters, who had previously revealed “wallpapergate”.

Picture: PA Wire/James Manning

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