British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had spent all day apologising for the drinking culture at the heart of his administration, but there was one thing he wasn’t going to give up on: the right of Members of Parliament to drink at work.
Johnson was huddled with his Tory MPs in a closed-door meeting when the suggestion was made that it might be a good idea for drinking to be banned in Parliament and at the prime minister’s offices at No. 10 Downing Street, according to a Conservative party official who briefed reporters afterward.
Johnson had spent the day trying to atone for a string of illegal parties that he and his officials had attended when the rest of the country was under lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19. The premier has already paid a fine, the first British leader found to have broken the law while in office, one of more than 80 officials penalised.
But banning booze was a step too far. Britain would never have won World War II if its leaders hadn’t had drink to help them handle the strain, Johnson joked, according to the official. The wartime leader Winston Churchill, Johnson’s hero, was a famously heavy boozer, though Johnson himself insisted he himself doesn’t tend to drink much.
With many MPs spending large chunks of their week away from their families, Westminster has been dogged for years by reports of bad behaviour, including sexual harassment, fueled by taxpayer-subsidised booze at the members bar.
The official said that it came down to a question of degree. It was okay for MPs to enjoy a glass of beer or wine to relax at the end of the day, but drinking into the early hours on government premises was clearly out of order.