Conservative MPs have called on Boris Johnson to resign over the Downing Street parties scandal – but Cabinet ministers hastily rallied to rustle up support tonight.
The prime minister is under intense pressure after admitting he attended a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering at Number 10 while the country was in lockdown – but insisting he ‘thought it was a work event’.
Tory MPs includingWilliam Wragg, Caroline Nokes and Roger Gale all turned their backs on the British leader tonight.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross is one of the biggest names to call for Mr Johnson to fall on his sword.
Tories in Scotland are in open revolt, with former leaders Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw and MSPs Murdo Fraser, Liz Smith and Douglas Lumsden all agreeing with Mr Ross.
Senior Tory Mr Wragg, chairman of the Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said Mr Johnson’s position is ‘untenable’ following revelations about the May 2020 event.
The Hazel Grove MP told Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘A series of unforced errors are deeply damaging to the perception of the party.’
Mr Wragg, who is also the vice-chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs, added it was ‘a tragedy things have come to pass in this way’.
The powerful backbench body, which would play a key role in facilitating any leadership election, met tonight for a pre-planned meeting.
Scottish Conservative leader Mr Ross earlier admitted ‘I don’t think [Mr Johnson] can continue as leader of the Conservatives.
He told STV he had spoken to the PM on Wednesday afternoon ‘and I set down my reasons and I explained to him my position’.
Meanwhile, Sir Roger Gale, said it was already clear that Mr Johnson had misled Parliament and was politically a ‘dead man walking’.
The North Thanet MP said ‘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’.
Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes told ITV’s Peston the PM had ‘put himself in an impossible position’, and added: ‘The message I’ve had from my constituents is they feel let down they feel disappointed, and I know how hard they worked through the pandemic to abide by the rules.’
She said: ‘They now see that the Prime Minister wasn’t in it together with them, that the rules were being broken in Downing Street, and that’s very serious.’
Ms Nokes said she recognised Mr Johnson ‘did a fantastic job’ at the 2019 election, but continued: ‘Now regretfully, he looks like a liability, and I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a general election, and it’s up to the party to decide which way around that’s going to be.
‘I know my thoughts are is that he’s damaging us now.’
But Mr Johnson’s Cabinet colleagues were out in full force on Twitter on Wednesday, with ministers Michael Gove, Nadine Dorries and Sajid Javid all leaping to his defence.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogs also told Times Radio: ‘I think the prime minister has got things right again and again and again.
‘But like us all, he accepts that during a two-and-a-half-year period there will be things that with hindsight would have been done differently.’
Ms Dorries wrote on Twitter that the ‘PM was right to personally apologise’ earlier.
‘People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that. The inquiry should now be allowed to its work and establish the full facts of what happened’, she added.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab even claimed Mr Johnson would be in post ‘for many years to come’.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered support late in the evening on Twitter, saying: ‘The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her enquiry.’
Following speculation over why he had not publicly backed Mr Johnson earlier, he said: ‘I’ve been on a visit all day today continuing work on our £PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation.’
Mr Johnson has attempted to head off savage criticism from within his own ranks and the public at large by apologising, but refusing to comment further while an ongoing investigation is allowed to be completed.
Following a session in the Commons which saw a visibly shaken Mr Johnson face calls for his resignation, Downing Street could not confirm or deny whether the PM had himself turned up to the event with his own booze.
Earlier today in the Commons, Mr Johnson said that he attended the gathering for around 25 minutes to ‘thank groups of staff’ but ‘with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside’.
The PM continued: ‘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.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said ‘the party is over’ and called on him to resign.
He said: ‘That code says ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.
‘The party’s over, prime minister. The only question is will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign?’
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