BORIS JOHNSON IS facing mounting pressure to get a grip on the drip feed of revelations about No 10 rule-breaking as he fights to stay in office.
Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood said the British Prime Minister must “lead or step aside”, telling the BBC: “We need leadership.”
The comments by the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee came as further claims emerged of regular “wine time Friday” gatherings in Downing Street while coronavirus rules were in place.
The Mirror said the weekly events are a “long-standing Downing Street tradition”, including under previous administrations, but that they continued after Covid restrictions were introduced prohibiting indoor mixing between households.
The newspaper said staff invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep their bottles of alcohol chilled, and that the Prime Minister was aware of the socialising.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.
“The findings will be made public in due course.”
Ministers have called on disgruntled Tory MPs to wait until senior civil servant Sue Gray has published her investigation into claims about lockdown-busting parties in Government.
But backbencher Andrew Bridgen said he did “not need to see what Sue Gray says to know that, for me, Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country”.
The North West Leicestershire MP confirmed he submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership “some time ago”.
Only a handful of Tories have publicly declared they have submitted letters to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, but the Telegraph said sources estimated about 20 might have been handed in – although that is well short of the 54 needed to trigger a leadership vote.
Bridgen, asked by BBC Breakfast about reports of “wine time Friday” sessions in Downing Street during lockdown, said: “It doesn’t matter, quite honestly, if the Prime Minister was present or not present.
“Ultimately, he is responsible for what goes on in Government, he is responsible for the culture in No 10, and what we’re seeing is a culture where it is one rule for them and the rest of us do as we’re told, and that’s just not acceptable.
“I’m not sure that any apology is going to put that right.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer repeated Bridgen’s assertion that the Prime Minister had lost his moral authority, and called for the Tory party to topple him.
He told the Fabian Society conference in London: “The moral authority matters, of course, in relation to Covid, but we’ve got other massive challenges facing this country.
“We’ve got a Prime Minister who is absent – he is literally in hiding at the moment and unable to lead, so that’s why I’ve concluded that he has got to go.
“And of course there is a party vantage in him going, but actually it is now in the national interest that he goes, so it is very important now that the Tory party does what it needs to do and gets rid of him.”
Starmer’s party is enjoying a surge in the polls, with one survey recording that Labour have risen to their largest predicted vote share in almost a decade.
A Savanta ComRes survey, its first voting intention poll since the partygate allegations broke, put Labour on 42 points, up by five, with Boris Johnson’s Tories on 32, down by one.
The Daily Mail, published an image of Starmer – which first emerged in spring last year – drinking a bottle of beer while talking to party staff in an office while on the local election trail last year when indoor mixing was not permitted, unless it was for work.
Labour, who have been approached for comment, have previously said the picture was from a workplace event, with Starmer and “a local MP” having “paused for dinner as the meeting was during the evening”.
It comes as reports suggested Johnson was mounting a fightback after a tumultuous week, with The Times and Daily Telegraph both stating that he has been in contact with Lynton Crosby, the political strategist who helped get elected as mayor of London.
Johnson will look to move on from so-called partygate by lifting Plan B measures, such as the guidance to work from home, at the end of the month, the Telegraph reported.
The restrictions, which were designed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, are due to expire on 26 January, subject to a review.
No news is bad news
Support The Journal
Your contributions will help us continue
to deliver the stories that are important to you
Tory minister Michael Gove hinted that there could be sackings as part of a shake-up at the top of Government, but rejected a suggestion that Johnson should be one of those to go.
The Cabinet minister, referencing the need for Gray’s inquiry to establish what went on, told ITV News: “If there is a specific need for disciplinary action or for responsibility to be taken, let’s do that, let’s do it quickly, but let’s also do it with all the facts in front of us.”
Johnson has continued to face criticism, including from those on his front bench, after admitting to attending a “bring your own booze” garden party in No 10 on 20 May 2020, which he insists he understood to be a “work event”.
Pensions minister Guy Opperman said the Prime Minister “needs to change his ways” as he recalled how, in the same month when some in No 10 were “not behaving appropriately”, he was not able to support his children before they died.
He and his wife Flora’s newborn twin boys, Teddy and Rafe, died the next month.
Speaking to BBC’s Politics North programme, the Tory MP said: “I feel pretty emotional about this because in May 2020 my wife and kids were unwell and they went to hospital.
“I was not able to go there to support them.”
Johnson faced further embarrassment this week after Downing Street was forced toafter it emerged two staff parties were reportedly held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
Witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music as two after-work events merged on 16 April 2021, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine, according to the Telegraph, which first reported the allegations.
Gray is said to have been “completely blindsided” by the latest revelations, the Times reported.
The newspaper said the Cabinet Office official is concerned that Downing Street staff are withholding information about parties from her as she looks to establish the facts.