Downing Street Covid parties: Nicola Sturgeon accuses Boris Johnson of 'cheap, populist policies' to distract from scandals

Nicola Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of resorting to “cheap, populist policies” to distract from the scandals engulfing his leadership.

Scotland’s First Minister responded to reports that Downing Street had launched ‘Operation Red Meat’ in a bid to stem public outrage at the slew of parties reported to have taken place during lockdown.

Ms Sturgeon said proposals such as ending the BBC licence fee and ordering the military to prevent small boats from crossing the Channel was “unedifying” for the Prime Minister.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke on a visit to the turbine installation company, Windhoist in Irvine, on Scotland's south-east coast. Picture: Andy Buchanan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Speaking to the media on Monday at a visit to Irvine after the announcement of offshore energy contracts, the SNP leader said the scandal surrounding the apparent “serial, repeated breaches of the Covid regulations” showed the Conservative Party was “not fit for office”.

She said: “Instead of Boris Johnson taking responsibility, he appears to be preparing to pass the blame to those who work for him and around him, which I don’t think is the kind of thing you would expect from somebody who is leader of his party and Prime Minister.

“But also, looking for cheap, populist policies to try to distract attention, to use refugees and those seeking asylum to save his own skin.

“While everybody will have different degrees of criticism of the BBC, to try to jettison the BBC to save his own skin, it’s unedifying. It’s beneath the office of Prime Minister and all it does really is underline this feeling that Boris Johnson is not just himself damaged irreparably, in my view, but he is bit by bit undermining and damaging the institutions of the country and the institutions that support our democracy and that’s why it’s got to stop.

“A line has to be drawn under this and it’s now up to the Tory Party to decide what’s more important – protecting Boris Johnson or acting in the wider interests of the country.”

Ms Sturgeon compared the situation to her being investigated over claims she breached the ministerial code by misleading Holyrood about when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor Alex Salmond.

She was eventually cleared by the Scottish Government’s standards adviser, James Hamilton, but insisted she would have resigned had she been found guilty of rule-breaking.

Warning that Mr Johnson would be taking a “very serious wrong turn” if he put his or his party’s interests ahead of the country, Ms Sturgeon added: “I know that had I been found to have breached a ministerial code, I would have resigned as First Minister.

“It would have been really tough, but there is this core principle here that I think anybody in an office like mine or Boris Johnson’s has to hold on to, and that is that the office you hold is much bigger and more important than your interest as an individual.

“That can be really hard for individuals in these positions, but if you lose sight of that, then you’ve taken a very serious wrong turn and I think that’s something Boris Johnson would do well to remember.”

Referencing Mr Johnson’s denial that he knew of rule-breaking parties at Downing Street, Ms Sturgeon reiterated her call for him to resign.

“I think the revelations day after day after day emanating from Downing Street suggest now beyond any doubt that there were serial, repeated breaches of the Covid regulations that everybody else was living under,” she said.

“But, perhaps even more seriously, there are real question marks over whether the Prime Minister has been honest and truthful about everything that was happening, including in his accounts to the House of Commons.

“I think there is such a fundamental issue of trust and integrity now around the Prime Minister and the responsible thing for him to do, to allow the focus to be back where it needs to be, would be to resign from office.

“My view is very firmly that that’s what should happen, but that’s a matter for him.

“I think there are questions for the Conservative Party more generally. It’s not as if these issues with Boris Johnson weren’t known about before he was Prime Minister, and therefore the question for the Tory Party more generally, perhaps, is how they could enable Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister in the first place.”

UK Government ministers have denied suggestions there is a concerted effort to save the Prime Minister from censure over the partygate scandal, with education secretary Nadhim Zahawi claiming he does not recognise “language about red meat or big dogs” after reports of populist policies being unveiled in a bid to help Mr Johnson survive the furore.

Under a move reportedly dubbed “Operation: Save Big Dog”, Mr Johnson will overhaul his top team and focus on “red meat” policies.

Over the weekend, culture secretary Nadine Dorries said the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”, reopening the debate over the corporation’s future.

And newspapers reported that home secretary Priti Patel is set to announce within weeks that the Navy will be brought in to spearhead controversial “pushback” tactics to turn away boats carrying migrants across the Channel.

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