oris Johnson should quit over the “Partygate” scandal, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland said today as the Prime Minister was fighting for his political life.
Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, said he spoke to Mr Johnson Wednesday afternoon and explained why he was calling for him resign.
Mr Johnson admitted in the Commons earlier that he had been at a “bring-your-own-booze” party in the garden of No10 on May 20, 2020, when Britain was in lockdown.
Mr Ross said: “I don’t want to be in this position. I am in the position now where I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.
“I spoke to the Prime Minister this afternoon, I set out my reasons and I explained to him my position.”
Mr Ross, a critic of the Prime Minister, did not want to disclose details of the conversation but was of the view that Mr Johnson “believes that he didn’t do anything wrong”.
He added: “He has put up a defence for his position.
“But I also have to look at the information I have in front to me, and to stick with the position that I made quite clear yesterday that if he did attend that party, he couldn’t continue as Prime Minister.”
Tory MPs watched in stony-silence as he issued an apology to the nation for spending 25 minutes at the gathering on May 20, 2020, in the garden of No10 where tables were reportedly laid out with sausage rolls, crisps, other picnic food and drinks.
Mr Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions that at the time he “believed implicitly that this was a work event” as meetings had been taking place in the garden to reduce the risk of getting Covid.
But he told MPs that “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, though, accused him of “lying through his teeth” and branded him a “man without shame”.
He added: “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?”
Mr Johnson repeatedly stressed MPs should wait for the report by top civil servant Sue Gray into a string of alleged parties in Downing Street, appearing to hint that the May 20 gathering may have “technically” been within the rules.
However, his premiership looked under unprecedented threat, with a growing number of Tory MPs voicing their anger and dismay over the “Partygate” scandal.
Many of them will wait to see the response from their constituents, including how many emails and letters they send in on the issue, before deciding the level of support they will offer the PM.
His fate hangs partly on the report by Ms Gray and whether the Metropolitan Police launches an inquiry into the reported parties during lockdown or when London was in Tier 3 restrictions.
He also faces local elections in May, including in London, when the country is expected to be in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
‘Politically, a dead man walking’
Shortly after PMQs, several Tory MPs voiced criticism of Mr Johnson or No10.
Tory veteran MP Sir Roger Gale, who has already submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, accused him of misleading Parliament over the party affair and told BBC radio that it looked from Twitter like he was “politically a dead man walking”.
He urged the powerful executive of the 1922 Committee of Backbench Tory MPs, which was meeting Wednesday afternoon, to “deal” with the matter of Mr Johnson staying in office.
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond said that while Mr Johnson had apologised it was “pretty difficult to understand why the Prime Minister was not briefed that this was not a work event”.
He added: “It clearly was not a work event and that is the problem.”
He stressed that he was waiting for the Gray report but was still “very, very concerned that people in Downing Street thought it was acceptable to break the rules”.
Senior MP Sir Christopher Chope told Sky News: “He delivered a most abject and fulsome apology.
“He took responsibility for what had happened and I think most right-minded people will say we must accept that apology.
“But obviously it’s not the end of the matter because there is this inquiry going on.”
In a sign of the threat to his leadership, Mr Johnson was reportedly in the MPs’ tea room in the Commons at lunchtime, speaking to backbenchers, a step he rarely takes.
Earlier, he acknowledged the public “rage” over the May 20 party which he said he had attended to thank staff for their work.
He said: “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”.
He added that they included “people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside.”
In a rare apology, he continued: “To them and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies.”
After refusing for days to say whether he had been at the May 20 party, Mr Johnson admitted he had, adding: “I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months.
“I know the anguish they have been through – unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.”
A ‘pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road’
However, Sir Keir flatly dismissed Mr Johnson’s account of the party.
“After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road,” he said, tearing into the Prime Minister.
“His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.”
The Labour leader added: “We’ve got the Prime Minister attending Downing Street parties – a clear breach of the rules. We’ve got the Prime Minister putting forward a series of ridiculous denials which he knows are untrue – a clear breach of the ministerial code.
“That code says ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.”
Scottish National Party Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, also rounded on the PM, saying if he “has no sense of shame, then the Tory backbenchers must act to remove him”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Will the Prime Minister, for the good of the country, accept that the party is over and decide to resign?”
Labour’s Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, questioned the Prime Minister’s excuse that he “didn’t spot that he was at a social event”, adding: “How stupid does the Prime Minister think that British people are?”
Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, had invited colleagues to the “socially distanced drinks” on May 20 to “make the most of the lovely weather” – urging them to “bring your own booze”.
Mr Johnson’s top former aide, Dominic Cummings, now a vehement critic of the Prime Minister, argued that the claim that the gathering was “technically within the rules” is “bullshit”.
But he said Mr Johnson’s only alternative would be to admit that he broke the rules and resign.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart acknowledged the storm was damaging the Tory party and the running of Government.
“There’s a lot of frustration and bafflement about all of this, and I completely understand,” he said.
“I’ve not met anybody who is not deeply, deeply conscious of the effect that this has on people’s attitudes to not just the political party … but the Government and the smooth running of the nation.”
The Commons chamber was packed for the showdown PMQs over parties although Chancellor Rishi Sunak, viewed as a potential successor as Tory leader, was notably absent on a reportedly long-arranged visit to Devon.
Earlier on Wednesday, Tory MPs had warned Mr Johnson that the “bring-your-own-booze party” at No10 is “indefensible” as he scrambled to rescue his leadership plunged into unprecedented crisis by the “Partygate” scandal.
They stressed “rule makers cannot be rule breakers” and that there would have to be “consequences” for those who flouted them.
They also emphasised the Government faced a “crunch point” when Ms Gray reports within weeks over the string of alleged parties in Downing Street, including the one on May 20 which has sparked the most anger.
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford told The Standard: “How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t.
“It’s beyond parody. Even the Thick of It wasn’t this cringeworthy.
“For all those who kept to the rules and missed out on deaths and funerals I’m so sorry for what must feel like a kick in the face.”
He added: “We need openness, trust and honesty in our politics now more than ever and that starts from top.”
Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills 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.”
He questioned whether “anybody who organised a party or willingly chose to attend one can stay in any position where they’re setting Covid policy”.
Mr Johnson has denied that he broke Covid rules.
But the May 20 bash, which was reportedly also attended by around 30 to 40 other people including Mr Johnson’s then fiancee Carrie Symonds, has ignited fury among families who lost loved ones during the pandemic and made other huge sacrifices to limit the spread of Covid.
Senior Tory Sir Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, said: “It is a serious matter, but I do not propose to comment substantively until the Enquiry report is received.
“I would say though that rule makers cannot be rule breakers. If rules have been broken, consequences will have to follow.”
Harrow East MP Bob Blackman, a senior member of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said: “The crunch point will come when Sue Gray reports.
“If the rules are breached, particularly by those that set them, then people have to face the consequences.”
Former minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, added: “Anyone found to have broken any rules must face appropriate sanctions.”
Pressure is also growing on Mr Johnson from some Conservative Party donors anxious at the series of missteps from Number 10 in recent months.
John Caudwell, founder of mobile retailer Phones4U and one of the Tories’ biggest financial backers before the 2019 general election, today attacked the “stupidity” of those involved in the May 20 party.
“That they should think they can get away with that sort of behaviour while the rest of the country is in the middle of a devastating lockdown is beyond belief to me and I find it extraordinary,” he told LBC.
Another major donor told the Standard that there was already talk among some of the Conservatives’ backers about who might replace Mr Johnson, although he stressed that the current storm was not necessarily fatal for the PM.
Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons transport committee, believes the Prime Minister does not need to resign even if he attended the party during the first coronavirus lockdown.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As far as I’m concerned we judge people in the round. That includes the action that was taken during the pandemic, the support, the vaccination programme, (and) holding the nerve on Plan B.”
However, many Tory MPs were less sympathetic.
Former Home Office minister Caroline Nokes accused No10 of a “ ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ attitude”.
Ex-defence minister Johnny Mercer tweeted that the reported party was “humiliating” and emphasised that it “does not reflect the majority of my colleagues who *at least try* and lead by example.”
The Metropolitan Police is liasing with the Cabinet Office about the latest party allegations.