Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure on Wednesday to explain whether he attended a Downing Street party that broke coronavirus restrictions in a “make or break” appearance in the House of Commons.
Johnson will appear at prime minister’s questions at midday and will be asked by MPs to explain his role in a gathering held on May 20 2020 in the Number 10 garden, where guests were asked to “bring your own booze”. Two eyewitnesses said he was present.
Johnson has declined to answer questions about his role in the party, referring instead to an inquiry led by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant who is investigating a series of gatherings across Whitehall during the pandemic. But the prime minister’s refusal to explain his presence has led to growing anger in the Conservative party.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is expected to put forward a series of “yes or no” questions about whether Johnson attended the party. The opposition leader, who has had coronavirus for the past week, tested negative on Wednesday and is therefore allowed to leave isolation.
In a sign of the seriousness of the crisis engulfing the government, no minister was put forward on the morning broadcast rounds to defend Johnson’s position.
Senior Tories said that Johnson’s future would depend on how he performed in parliament. “It really is a make or break appearance,” said one veteran MP. “If it gets the tone of this wrong, he could be finished.”
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called on the prime minister to resign over the party affair. “Boris Johnson is now incapable of leading our country through this public health crisis. I think he’s actually now a threat to the health of the nation because no one will do anything he’s said because he’s now shown to have been deceitful.”
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, said that Johnson “can’t hide any more” behind Gray’s investigation and must answer questions about the party. “He needs to finally come clean and answer the question: did he break the lockdown rules he ordered the rest of us to follow. Yes or no?”
Anger is growing within the Conservative party about Johnson’s alleged attendance at the gathering. Sixteen MPs have spoken out publicly against Number 10’s position on the parties, while others said the chances of him facing a no-confidence vote were rising.
Christian Wakefield, Tory MP for Bury South, said he could not “defend the indefensible”. He wrote on Twitter that the situation was “embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it’s already low. We need openness, trust and honesty in our politics now more than ever and that starts from the top.”
Nigel Mills, a backbench Tory MP, told the BBC, “the idea that during the worst lockdown — when you could only see one other person — that the people organising the rules were having a party is just unacceptable. It’s indefensible.”
Some members of the government said the mood among ministers was split. “It’s torn between those who think ‘hold on tight and it’ll be fine’ and those who are really worried,” said one ministerial aide.