Boris Johnson losing Tory support as storm grows over Downing Street garden party

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Prime Minister will not resign, says minister asked to face Commons, despite polls showing up to 66pc of the public think he should go

Boris Johnson losing Tory support as storm grows over Downing Street garden party
Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, insisted Mr Johnson was 'going nowhere' – but in a sign of waning support, only a handful of Tory MPs turned up to listen
Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, insisted Boris Johnson was ‘going nowhere’ – but in a sign of waning support, only a handful of Tory MPs turned up to listen CREDIT: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

Boris Johnson must resign if he broke lockdown rules, Tory politicians warned on Tuesday as support for the Prime Minister ebbed away over new Downing Street party allegations.

A poll found that 66 per cent of voters want Mr Johnson to quit after it emerged that a Number 10 garden party had been organised in May 2020 – at the height of the first lockdown.

Prominent Conservatives said it was “appalling” and “utterly indefensible” that the event took place, while Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said Mr Johnson should quit if he broke the rules or misled Parliament.

On Tuesday, Downing Street refused to answer questions about the gathering, and the Prime Minister declined to speak publicly.

A minister sent out to answer MPs’ questions insisted he would not resign – but in a sign of waning support, only a handful of Tory MPs turned up to listen.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson is expected to spell out his defence of the May 20, 2020 drinks do – which he reportedly attended – at what is likely to be a packed Prime Minister’s Questions.

It comes amid a backdrop of open mutiny from scores of his own MPs, with many refusing to speak out in his defence and others voicing criticism.

Asked whether Mr Johnson had to quit if he was at the gathering, Mr Ross said: “Yes, because you cannot put in place these rules, you cannot be the head of the Government that is asking people to follow these rules and then breaking those rules yourself.”

He told Sky News: “If the Prime Minister has misled Parliament, then he must resign.”

Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives, said: “If the inquiry or the Metropolitan Police find that the alleged activities were illegal and that the PM knew this, or was involved, then I think he should consider his position.”

Nigel Mills, the Tory MP for Amber Valley, said: “I can’t see how anybody who organised a party or willingly chose to attend one can stay in any position where they’re setting Covid policy.”

He added: “It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that.

“If the Prime Minister knowingly attended a party I can’t see how he can survive having accepted resignations for far less.

“He accepted the resignation of his spokesperson (Allegra Stratton) for not attending a party but joking about it at a time of much lighter restrictions. I just think that’s untenable.” 

Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, insisted Mr Johnson was “going nowhere” as he answered questions in the Commons. 

But two opinion polls, published by Savanta ComRes and YouGov on Tuesday, suggested widespread public backing for the Prime Minister’s resignation.

Savanta found 66 per cent of respondents agreeing that he should quit, while YouGov had 56 per cent of those surveyed calling for him to go.

The numbers, when broken down by party allegiance, were similarly worrying for Number 10, with at least a third of respondents who considered themselves Tories backing a resignation.

The latest backlash came after ITV News obtained an email invitation from Martin Reynolds, the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, for “socially distanced drinks” in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020.

Some 100 people were reportedly invited at a time when the public were being told they could not socialise with more than one person outside their household.

Mr Reynolds became “panicky” when incredulous members of staff began raising concerns over the party, but he decided not to cancel the gathering because he feared it would draw additional attention, according to The Times.

Party-goers told the paper that a row of tables had been set up along one side of the garden to act as a bar.

One senior staffer even joked that drones overhead might spot the outdoor soirée.

Downing Street has yet to deny reports that Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie attended the gathering, at which attendees were encouraged to “bring your own booze”.

The Metropolitan Police declined to announce an investigation on Tuesday night, with sources indicating that they would wait until the Cabinet Office passed on the email before making a decision.

The gathering is the latest in a string of alleged lockdown-busting parties held in Government buildings during 2020 which have triggered claims of hypocrisy.

The Telegraph can reveal that Mr Reynolds is facing allegations that he attended another boozy gathering in Downing Street, which may have broken lockdown rules, on Dec 18.

Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary to Cabinet Office, is conducting the internal investigation into all lockdown-breaching party allegations and has started carrying out interviews. She may not reach a conclusion until later this month.

Downing Street press figures and government ministers argued that they would not answer specific questions about the latest party claims until Ms Gray reported back.

But Conservative MPs turned on Mr Johnson on Tuesday amid warnings that his premiership is “hanging by a thread”. 

A series of senior Tories lashed out, with David Davis, the former Cabinet minister, describing the debacle as “one more nail in the coffin” of the Johnson administration.

John Caudwell, the Phones4U founder and a Tory donor, issued an ultimatum, saying: “Sort it out, Boris, or step aside and let someone else sort it out so that the Tories aren’t wiped out at the next election.”

Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links expressed her anger, posting on Twitter: “Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What were any of these people thinking?”

Johnny Mercer, a former minister under Mr Johnson, admitted the scandal was “humiliating”.

Responding to a constituent, Mr Mercer tweeted: “I’m sorry. It’s humiliating, and does not reflect the majority of my colleagues who *at least try* and lead by example. Thank you for your sacrifice … I will always represent you above all else.”

Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said he awaits the Prime Minister’s explanation in the Commons today “with interest”.

Sir Charles Walker, the vice chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said there was a lot of anger over what had happened and said the Prime Minister urgently needed to rebuild public trust.

“I think the Prime Minister needs to spend the next six months restoring trust in No 10 and making some good and strong decisions. I think that is the challenge for him,” he told Channel 4 News.

Councillor Antony Mullen, the leader of Sunderland Conservatives, told BBC Radio 4: “I think Martin Reynolds should have been sacked and I think Boris Johnson will inevitably have to follow him.

“I can’t see how he can continue – it seems pretty obvious to me that Sue Gray’s report will now likely find that he misled the House of Commons. I think this is such an atrocity, I can’t see how he can survive.”

Other senior Tories heaped pressure on Mr Johnson to confirm at Prime Minister’s Questions whether he knew about the party, whether he attended and whether he authorised it.

One former Cabinet minister told The Telegraph he would find himself in a bind however he answered the third question.

“If the answer is yes, he’s guilty as hell [of breaking the rules]. If the answer is no, it confirms there is anarchy in Downing Street that a private secretary could act in this way without approval,” the former minister said. “He’s hanging by a thread – but he is quite good at hanging by a thread.”

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told The Telegraph: “If the PM has misled Parliament, it’s an extremely serious matter and that, coupled with other investigations that have arisen, places the PM in an untenable situation.”

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