What has Boris Johnson said?
Johnson has so far refused to comment on his future ahead of the outcome of an investigation into Downing Street parties during lockdown, headed by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
The prime minister apologised at PMQs and told MPs he “must take full responsibility” and he “knew the rage” that people around the UK feel.
He confirmed that he attended the drinks event at just after 6pm before returning to his office 25 minutes later. He said the event was “implicitly a work event”.
Following his apology, the prime minister said: “All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.”
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That won’t stop him facing questions over his future.
In an interview with Sky News, a downcast Johnson reiterated that he believed the April 16 party was a “work event. He said: “I can’t believe that we would have gone ahead with an event that people were saying was against the rules… Nobody warned me that it was against the rules. I can absolutely categorically say that because I would remember that.”
Johnson continued to reiterate his stance that he would wait until the findings of Sue Gray’s inquiry were published at Prime Minister’s Questions on January 19.
Who is Sue Gray and what is she investigating?
Civil servant Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, is tasked with investigating allegations of a number of parties that took place at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdowns when restrictions were in place to limit the spread of the virus.
Gray will be investigating the Downing Street garden drinks party that Johnson admitted to attending. It is alleged that around 40 people attended the party at a time when restrictions meant people were only able to meet up with one person they didn’t live with outside their home.
A leaked email has revealed that an invite to the party was sent to more than 100 government employees and asked them to “bring your own booze”.
But that is not the only alleged party that Gray will be investigating.
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The inquiry was originally set up to investigate other alleged events at Whitehall and Downing Street and was due to be led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case. He was forced to step down after it was revealed a Christmas event was also held in his office in December 2020.
His replacement Gray will look into the reported party at 10 Downing Street on December 18 2020. Johnson has so far refused to deny the event took place but has insisted that “all guidance was followed”. His adviser Allegra Stratton resigned after leaked footage revealed her laughing about a “fictional party”.
Gray will also investigate events on May 15 2020 when Johnson is reported to have joined Number 10 staff for a gathering at Downing Street.
There are also claims from Dominic Cummings – denied by Number 10 – that a party took place on November 13 2020 in 10 Downing Street where Johnson lives with wife Carrie following Cummings departure.
A number of other Christmas gatherings involving Conservatives and government officials are also under investigation. The Big Issue revealed that a party was held at the Home Office in March 2021 where staff “mingled” and drank prosecco in their office despite lockdown. It is unclear whether Gray will investigate that party
Allegations also claim Johnson made a speech at a leaving party on November 27 while he is also reported to have attended an online Downing Street quiz alongside colleagues on December 15.
It is not yet clear whether Gray will investigate new accusations from The Daily Telegraph that two leaving events were reportedly held the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.
The newspaper alleged that Downing Street staff drank alcohol into the early hours on April 16 2021 and even sent someone to the Co-op on the Strand with a suitcase to bring back bottles of wine, according to one person who attended the gathering.
The alleged events took place just a day before coronavirus restrictions meant the Queen was forced to sit alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
James Slack, who was Boris Johnson’s director of communications before taking up a job as deputy editor of The Sun newspaper, has apologised for the leaving party.
He said in a statement: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused.
“This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”
There is no deadline for Gray to complete her investigation and she can take as long as she needs to come to her conclusions. The wait for Gray’s findings potentially buys Johnson precious time to weather the storm.
Who has called for Boris Johnson to resign?
There has been rising discontent in the prime minister’s party since he apologised.
One MP, Bury South’s Christian Wakeford has even left the party. Opting to defect from the Conservatives to Labour just minutes before Johnson was due to face Prime Minister’s Questions on January 19.
In a letter confirming his resignation from the party, Wakeford said: “I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative government led by Boris Johnson are doing nothing to help the people of the constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.”
He added: “My decision is about much more than the leadership of Boris Johnson and the disgraceful way he has conducted himself in recent weeks.
“However, I don’t believe all politicians are the same and I do believe in the power of politics to be a force for good. So does Keir Starmer.”
Starmer welcomed Wakeford to the opposition party. He said: “I would like to welcome Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party. He has always put the people of Bury South first.”
The Bury South MP had previously confirmed he was one of the Tory ministers who had submitted a letter of no-confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.
In total, 54 Conservative MPs – 15 per cent of the party’s 360 sitting representatives – would need to submit a letter in order to trigger a leadership vote, according to the party’s rules.
In recent days it has looked increasingly likely that the total will be met.
Around 20 MPs who were voted in at the 2019 General Election have reportedly held a secret meeting to discuss their stance on the Conservative leader. Dubbed the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ due to the inclusion of Melton Mowbray MP Alicia Kearns, the move is further proof that the pressure on Johnson to call it quits is rising.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has been one of Johnson’s fiercest critics. He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One that the prime minister should resign and is a “dead man walking”.
Sir Gale has already written to the 1922 Committee, an influential group of backbench Conservative MPs, to call for a leadership election.
In total, 54 Conservative MPs – 15 per cent of the party’s 360 sitting representatives – would need to send letters of no-confidence to 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady to trigger a vote, according to the party’s rules.
Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, told ITV’s Peston that Johnson “looks like a liability” and said: “I think he either goes now or he goes in three years’ time”.
Fellow backbencher William Wragg, who represents Hazel Grove and is the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, has said Johnson’s position is “untenable”.
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has called for Johnson to stand down. He revealed the pair had a “difficult conversation” and said he would be writing a letter of no confidence to the 1922 Committee. Ross said: “He is the prime minister, it is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions.”
However, Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg told Newsnight Ross was a “lightweight” after being told all 31 Scottish Conservative MSPs believe the prime minister should quit.
Labour leader Starmer originally led the calls for Johnson to resign at Prime Minister’s Questions on January 12.
Starmer said: “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?”
Meanwhile, Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner has written to every member of the cabinet demanding they “finally come clean” over any lockdown-breaching parties they may have attended.
So far, none of the prime minister’s cabinet ministers have called for his head. Meanwhile supporters, such as energy minister Greg Wise, have pointed to the success of the Covid-19 booster jab rollout as a reason for Johnson to stay in office.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted that she backed Johnson “100%”. Meanwhile Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was in Devon as Johnson apologised, tweeted that the prime minister was “right to apologise” and that he supported Johnson’s stance to wait for Gray’s findings. Truss and Sunak are seen as two potential candidates for the role should Johnson leave.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Health Secretary Sajid Javid have also given their backing to Johnson while Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that.”
Outside of the political bubble, there has been a wave of anger from the public, many of whom were unable to see loved ones before they passed away as they observed Covid restrictions.
But will Boris Johnson resign?
This is not the first time Johnson has faced calls to quit after a scandal-hit 2021 but he has proved to be resilient during his Downing Street tenure.
There are no signs he will resign before the findings of Susan Gray’s investigation are made public.
However, the anger that ‘partygate’ has sparked in his own party could see backbenchers decide his fate if enough votes of no-confidence are submitted following Johnson’s PMQs apology.
Johnson could yet face a leadership vote but it is unclear whether any of the leading candidates to replace him would be able to mount a suitable challenge.