By Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) -Former British Prime Minister John Major accused his fellow Conservative Boris Johnson on Thursday of breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws and said he should resign if he is found to have deliberately misled parliament with his “brazen excuses”.
Johnson is facing his gravest crisis since becoming prime minister in 2019 over a steady drip of reports of boozy events in his Downing Street office and residence while Britain was under strict coronavirus restrictions.
He has resisted calls, including from some in his governing Conservative Party, to quit, asking lawmakers to wait for a police investigation to conclude whether the law was broken and promising to reshape his administration.
In a wide-ranging attack, Major, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997, accused Johnson’s administration of making “unbelievable” excuses to try to defend the prime minister and of challenging the rule of law.
“Deliberate lies to parliament have been fatal to political careers – and must always be so,” Major, 78, said in a speech to the Institute for Government think tank.
“At Number 10, the prime minister and officials broke lockdown laws. Brazen excuses were dreamed up. Day after day the public was asked to believe the unbelievable.”
British police said on Wednesday they would start contacting more than 50 people who are believed to have attended lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street as part of their investigation.
Johnson, 57, refused to say on Thursday whether he would resign if police fined him for breaching COVID regulations.
“That process must be completed, and I’m looking forward to it being completed, and that’s the time to say more on that,” he told a news conference at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
Major, a longstanding critic of Johnson over Brexit and other issues, said other ministers should shoulder part of the blame for the current situation due to what he said was their unwillingness to stand up for the truth.
Asked about Major’s assertion that the prime minister had broken the law, Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment because of the ongoing police investigation.
Major said Johnson had undermined Britain at home and abroad by running roughshod over the rule of law, including by suspending parliament in 2019 just to avoid Brexit debates.
At that time, Johnson’s supporters said such moves were necessary to push forward Britain’s difficult negotiations with the European Union.
“The charge that there is one law for the government, and one for everyone else is politically deadly – and it has struck home,” Major said.
“Trust, integrity and values are the structure upon which our democracy is founded.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Nick Macfie)