Boris Johnson: Senior Tories urge PM to quit after party apology

Boris Johnson: Senior Tories urge PM to quit after party apology

Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior Tories to stand down as prime minister after he admitted attending a drinks party during lockdown.

The PM apologised for the way he handled the event in the Downing Street garden in 2020 and said he understood the public’s “rage” over it.

Cabinet members including deputy PM Dominic Raab rallied round Mr Johnson.

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and MPs William Wragg, Caroline Nokes and Roger Gale called on him to go.

Mr Ross, an MP and an MSP, said he had a “difficult conversation” with Mr Johnson after the PM apologised earlier on Wednesday in the House of Commons.

He said he would write to the 1922 Committee – which organises Tory leadership contests – to register his lack of confidence in the PM.

“He is the prime minister, it is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions,” he said.

If 54 backbench Conservative MPs send letters to the 1922 committee it will trigger a leadership challenge.

Ministers have urged MPs to wait for the outcome of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into alleged Covid-rule breaking at Downing Street parties, which they say will be published shortly.

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Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “You’ve got to let these investigations get to the full details and the full facts.”

He said “with hindsight [the prime minister] regrets going out to the garden” and recognised the “frustration, anger and upset” about what people perceived to be happening at Downing Street, adding he “absolutely” offered his full support to the prime minister.

‘Liability’

But Mr Wragg, another backbencher, who chairs an influential select committee, said the prime minister’s position was “untenable”.

“I don’t think it should be left to the findings of a civil servant to determine the future of the prime minister and indeed who governs this country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

And fellow Tory Caroline Nokes, who chairs another Commons committee, said the prime minister should resign now as he was “damaging the entire Conservative brand”.

The former minister, who has previously been critical of Mr Johnson’s leadership, told ITV’s Robert Peston: “Regretfully, he looks like a liability.

“And I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a general election.”

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What next for Boris Johnson?

The prime minister’s admission and apology in the Commons likely bought him a little time.

A pause until the official inquiry into what parties did or didn’t take place in Downing Street is published, in perhaps a week or so.

But for many on his own side, Boris Johnson has already lost the benefit of the doubt.

Growing numbers of his own MPs want him out, discussing frantically how and when his exit could take place.

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At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson sought to calm anger over reports he attended a “bring your own booze” party at the height of the first lockdown.

He admitted he was at the 20 May 2020 gathering for about 25 minutes, so that he could “thank groups of staff” for their hard work, but said he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.”

However, he added: “With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside.

“I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM’s explanation for his attendance was “so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public” and he called on Mr Johnson “to do the decent thing and resign”.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford called on Tory MPs to force the PM out – and Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said he had to go.Watch as Sir Keir Starmer asks if the PM will do the decent thing and resign

The PM’s statement was met with a mixed reaction from Conservative MPs, with Dan Poulter saying it was “not much consolation” for those who had worked on the frontline in the NHS.

But cabinet ministers rallied to Mr Johnson’s defence, including Mr Raab, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, who said it was important to wait for Ms Gray’s report to conclude.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors to Mr Johnson as leader – tweeted their support on Wednesday evening.

Ms Truss said she stood behind the prime minister “100%”, while Mr Sunak said Mr Johnson was “right to apologise”, adding that he supported the PM’s call for “patience” while Ms Gray completed her investigation.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said those who were calling for Mr Johnson were “people who are always unhappy” and dismissed Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross as “quite a lightweight figure”.

The Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, Andrew Percy, criticised Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments, saying: “As someone who apparently loves the Union, his personal attack on Douglas… is a gift to the petty nationalists in the SNP who want to break this country up.”

It came as a poll for The Times by YouGov, which was carried out before Mr Johnson’s apology at Prime Minister’s Questions, put Labour at a 10-point lead ahead of the Tories – the party’s biggest lead since December 2013.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns in 2020. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps” out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to “obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

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