Tory grassroot support was ebbing away from the Prime Minister as the Government was rocked by the fresh revelations about Downing Street bashes. With the furore showing no sign of abating, at least one more MP confirmed he had sent in a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson.
The Prime Minister apologised on Wednesday for a “bring-your-own-booze” party in the garden of No10 on May 20, 2020, when Britain was in lockdown, but told MPs he regarded it as a work gathering, so may technically have been within the rules.
However, any hopes he may have had that the storm may ease were dashed on Friday morning with the new revelations about two leaving dos in Downing Street the night before the Queen attended her husband’s funeral wearing a face mask and socially distanced from her family at Windsor Castle, in line with Covid restrictions.
The Prime Minister’s former director of communications apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by the leaving gathering held in Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
James Slack, who last year left No10 to become deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun, said the party on April 16, 2021 “should not have happened at the time that it did”.
However, one senior MP criticised the “culture” at No10 which has led to top civil servant Sue Gray now investigating a series of parties in Downing Street while Cabinet ministers were telling millions of people across Britain to make often difficult sacrifices to abide by Covid restrictions.
Senior Tory Sir Bob Neill, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, told the Standard: “The concern would be is the sense emerging that somehow the culture has been allowed to develop in No10 on the PM’s watch… where it was not realised how wrong and offensive this was. It’s absolutely imperative there is a complete shake-up of the No10 operation.”
- Councillor Simon Ward, of the Sutton Coldfield Conservatives Association, which voted unanimously to withdraw its support from Mr Johnson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The culture starts at the top, doesn’t it? And that’s the really disappointing point.” On his associaton’s decision, Sutton Coldfield Tory MP Andrew Mitchell said: “Their views are important and need to be heard.”
- Security minister Damian Hinds stopped short of supporting Mr Johnson’s argument that the May 20 “bring-your-own-booze” bash was a work event. He told BBC Breakfast: “Obviously if you are a rule maker you cannot be a rule breaker. Of course that is correct. But we need to let this (Gray) investigation run, we need to hear what comes out of that and then there will be of course rightly the proper scrutiny in Parliament and elsewhere.” He also told of his “shock” over the latest party revelations.
- Bury South MP Christian Wakeford confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs. Mr Wakeford said: “I’m not sure the latest event that went on in the early hours, held in the basement, someone going out with a suitcase to get booze, a DJ, breaking a garden swing can be called a work event.”
- Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, has also submitted a no confidence letter, with one report suggesting as many as 30 could already have been sent in. Fifty-four would trigger a vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
- * Veteran Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who has called on Mr Johnson to quit, told Sky News: “I do think that minds are now, over this weekend, being focused upon the need to take the necessary action. “I believe that there is some momentum which is growing.”
- At Westminster, there was a sulphurous mood among Tory MPs about the “Partygate” storm, with one senior MP saying: “The evidence is mounting and with it the sense that Boris is toast.”
- However, some MPs believe Mr Johnson will survive the Gray report but could be toppled if the May local elections are dismal for the Tories.
One MP said: “It’s a question of when not if. I think he will stagger on to the May local elections.” The Daily Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on April 16 2021, the day before the Duke’s funeral.
They were to mark the departures of Mr Slack and one of the PM’s personal photographers, the newspaper said.
The latter was said to have taken place in a room in the basement of the building, with someone acting as DJ.
The gatherings reportedly went on beyond midnight, with one person allegedly being sent to the Co-op in The Strand with a suitcase to bring back bottles of wine.
The two events are said to have started separately and later merged, with a swing for the PM’s son in the garden said to have been damaged.
The Telegraph cited a No10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day. He is said to have been at Chequers.
However, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest.
“I have no words for the culture behaviours at Number 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”
Fran Hall, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “If your neighbours had behaved like this, you’d have been disgusted.”
A Downing Street spokeman said of Mr Slack’s event: “On this individual’s last day, he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.”