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Allies rally round Boris Johnson as Tories call for him to go over 'bring your own booze' party

The UK leader pulled out of a planned visit to Lancashire this morning “due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus”.

Boris Johnson leaving the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London yesterday.
Boris Johnson leaving the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London yesterday.
Image: PA

BORIS JOHNSON’S FUTURE is hanging in the balance as Cabinet ministers pleaded with Tory MPs to wait for the findings of an official investigation into Downing Street parties before calling for him to quit.

The UK Prime Minister apologised yesterday for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first coronavirus lockdown, but insisted he believed it was a work event and could “technically” have been within the rules.

Johnson’s confirmation that he was at the event led to four Tory MPs publicly calling for him to quit, with more privately voicing concerns about his leadership.

The Prime Minister pulled out of a planned visit to a vaccination centre in Lancashire this morning, where he would have faced questions from the media about his actions, because a family member tested positive for coronavirus.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis urged people to wait for the outcome of an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the alleged lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and Whitehall before making judgemends on Johnson’s future.

“The Prime Minister has outlined that he doesn’t believe that he has done anything outside the rules. If you look at what the investigation finds, people will be able to take their own view of that at the time,” he said.

Cabinet ministers rallied round to defend Johnson, but the late interventions of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.

While Johnson endured a difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Sunak had notably spent the day away from London on a visit in Devon.

But Lewis told Sky News: “I have seen Rishi working with the Prime Minister. They work absolutely hand-in-hand. I know that Rishi has got support for the Prime Minister.”

Open revolt

Lewis insisted Johnson was the right person to be Prime Minister and “I think we will be able to go forward and win a general election”.

Johnson faced open revolt from one wing of his party, as Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged him to quit, with almost all Tory MSPs supporting the call.

Ross was dismissed as a “lightweight figure” by Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg following his intervention.

In the House today, Rees-Mogg defended his comments saying Ross held office in the Conservative Party.

“It seems to me that people who hold office ought to support the leader of the party. That is the honourable and proper thing to do,” he said.

In Westminster, three other Tory MPs said Johnson should go – Roger Gale, former minister Caroline Nokes and chairman of the Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee William Wragg.

In the Commons yesterday, Johnson said he recognised “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside” instead of spending 25 minutes in the No 10 garden thanking staff for their work on 20 May 2020.

He insisted he thought the party was work-related, but said he recognised “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside”.

He said an inquiry was examining the situation, but accepted “there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility”.

“I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he said.

Downing Street insisted he had not been sent an email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, encouraging colleagues to go to the garden for “socially distanced drinks” to “make the most of this lovely weather” – and urging them to “bring your own booze”.

Lewis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Johnson was “very, very sincere” in his apology for what happened.

“He made it very clear that, with hindsight, he regrets doing what he did in going out and not just straight away telling the staff to go back in but thanking the team for the work they were doing,” he said.

He does recognise the anger and upset and frustration that people feel at what they perceive happened at No 10. He recognises that and takes responsibility. Anybody who looks at what he said at the despatch box yesterday will clearly be able to see that was very, very sincere.

Lewis played down reports that Johnson told Tory MPs in the Commons tearoom that he does not believe he did anything wrong and the Government is taking a hit for something it does not deserve.

“I haven’t heard him say that at all. I wasn’t in the tearoom. So commenting on tittle-tattle that may have come out of the tearoom I can’t do,” he said.

Former minister Philip Dunne told Times Radio: “I think the Prime Minister was quite right to apologise yesterday, and I think it is right that we wait to see what the investigation from Sue Gray establishes.

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“People will then have to suffer the consequences of whatever happens.”

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that relatives of those who died during the pandemic are “appalled, horrified and retraumatised” by the events, asking how senior ministers could have been telling the country what to do during the lockdown “and yet they weren’t doing it themselves”.

A poll for The Times by YouGov, which was carried out before Johnson’s apology at Prime Minister’s Questions, put Labour at a ten-point lead ahead of the Tories for the first time in nearly a decade.

What happens next?

Johnson’s future will depend on how many letters of no confidence are submitted to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, Graham Brady.

A figure of 15% would trigger a confidence vote; with the current parliamentary make up this would mean 54 letters.

Roger Gale told the PA news agency “you don’t have bring-a-bottle work events in Downing Street, so far as I’m aware,” and “I think the time has come for either the Prime Minister to go with dignity as his choice, or for the 1922 Committee to intervene”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer also called on the Prime Minister to resign, as did the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey.

Johnson’s press secretary insisted that he was not a liar and “he is not resigning”, but dismissed as “hypothetical” questions over whether that could change after Gray’s report was published.

Hannah Brady, from the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father Shaun Brady died just a few days before the “bring your own booze” event, said if Johnson did not step down, his MPs had a “moral duty” to remove him.

The majority of Tories, however, were keeping their own counsel until Gray’s report, which it is understood will not be ready any earlier than next week.

Cabinet ministers repeatedly deferred to the investigation when questioned.

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