Numerous Tory MPs are now admitting that Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister could come to an end imminently, amid public fury at today’s latest revelations regarding an illegal ‘bring your own booze‘ garden party hosted at Downing Street during the height of the first nationwide lockdown.
Last night, ITV News published an explosive email – sent by the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds – showing that more than 100 Downing Street staff were invited to a drinks party in the No. 10 garden in May 2020.
Reynolds’ email – which invited staff for “drinks in the No10 garden this evening” and asked them to “bring [their] own booze” – was sent on May 20th, at the height of the first lockdown.
Numerous eyewitnesses have confirmed that around 40 staff, including both Boris Johnson, and his wife Carrie, attended the illegal gathering.
Only an hour before the drinks party was due to start, the then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden hosted a televised Press Conference in which he reminded people in England that it was against the law to socialise with more than one person who was not a member of their own household in an outdoor setting.
The latest revelations come following a raft of other illegal Downing Street lockdown parties – some of which were attended by the Prime Minister – were exposed by Pippa Crerar and The Mirror shortly before Christmas last month.
However, regarding last month’s revelations, Downing Street attempted to deflect criticism by using the excuse that the parties were supposedly ‘work-related’ (despite them including a Christmas quiz hosted by Boris Johnson and one of his aides was pictured literally wearing tinsel).
However, with the email exposed by ITV News last night, Downing Street is unable to make the same excuse because Reynolds’ message explicitly invites Number 10 staff to a social gathering, rather than a work-related event.
Following the Mirror‘s litany of exposés last month, Tory MPs were reportedly furious at the PM for allowing the parties to happen – and, unsurprisingly, their anger was also reflected by the public, with opinion polls showing a huge downturn in support for both the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson.
However, this anger quickly subsided amid December’s festivities, and the noise around Boris Johnson’s future faded away.
But, today’s latest report appears to have poured a further gallon of fuel onto the dwindling fire, and then lobbed a grenade into it for good measure – with a number of Tories now appearing to admit that they have now been tipped over the edge regarding their ongoing support for the Prime Minister.
According to Sky News‘ Beth Rigby, numerous Tory MPs are now in the process of “taking soundings” about replacing Johnson as leader of the party.
Told by a source in cabinet today PM was full of ‘forced purpose and mission’ & ‘bulldozed over everybody’. Now MP/senior ministers waiting on what PM going to say/what Met do/Sue Gray report. From conversations I’ve had today it’s fair to say people taking soundings
— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) January 11, 2022
And another Tory MP told the Mail on Sunday‘s Dan Hodges that the PM’s position was now untenable, saying:
“This is a shit show Dan. He’s hanging by a thread. No one is comfortable any more. He cannot continue to dump on us. I think he’s reached the tipping point tbh”.
Tory MP: “This is a shit show Dan. He's hanging by a thread. No one is comfortable any more. He cannot continue to dump on us. I think he's reached the tipping point tbh”. Fairly concise. And representative.
— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) January 11, 2022
In addition, Anthony Mullen, the leader of the Tories on Sunderland Council, also said the PM’s time may now be up:
Anthony Mullen, leader of Tories on Sunderland Council on #wato now suggesting that PM may end up having to go, says Martin Reynolds must go
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) January 11, 2022
And even Tory donors are starting to turn on him – with Phones4U boss John Caudwell, who donated £500,000 to the Tories before the 2019 General Election, says Johnson should either sort it out or “step aside“.
And the unadulterated gloom among Tory MPs was in no way helped by the extraordinary events in Parliament this afternoon.
At around 10:30 this morning it was announced that an Urgent Question, tabled by Labour Deputy Angela Rayner to quiz the Prime Minister regarding the latest revelations, had been accepted.
However, rather than the Prime Minister coming to Parliament to respond in person, Number 10 wheeled out none other than Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General (yes, nobody else has ever heard of him either), to try and defend the PM.
Even before Ellis had opened his mouth, cries of “where is he?” echoed around the chamber from the opposition benches – with MPs venting their fury that the PM clearly didn’t have to guts to defend himself (yet again).
Unsurprisingly, the Paymaster General’s attempt to act as a human shield for the PM’s latest indefensible actions went abysmally – with Ellis repeatedly refusing to answer questions, and simply telling opposition MPs that they should wait until the official report into the Downing Street parties was released in order to get answers.
However, as Rayner stated in her opening speech, the Prime Minister ‘can run, but he can’t hide’ – and it is true. Because, as luck would have it, tomorrow is Wednesday – which means Prime Minister’s questions.
So, unless Johnson somehow manages to locate a suitably-sized fridge to stow away in for the day (or if he conveniently discovers he has to self-isolate – which we genuinely wouldn’t bet against) he will be forced to face the music – and this time, it could well be one of his last despatch box performances as PM.
Because, whilst Michael Ellis was easily able to hide behind the impending publication of Sue Gray’s inquiry into Number 10’s lockdown parties in order to avoid answering questions, Boris Johnson cannot possibly do the same – because he literally attended the parties himself!
I mean, what possible answer can he give when Rayner asks him if he was at the party? That he doesn’t recall being there? That it was actually a Boris impersonator? Or (as he always seems to believe in his own mind) that it’s actually everybody who is lying about everything rather than him?
Even Boris Johnson, of all people, will surely try and come up with a better excuse than any of those before midday tomorrow. But, unfortunately for him, he’s finally scraped the barrel clean – there are absolutely no more legitimate excuses left. He broke the rules. He knows it. Everybody else knows it. And he surely now knows that neither the public, nor his own MPs, are willing to be dragged along under his clown car any longer.
Britons think Boris Johnson should resign as PM
Should resign: 56%
Should remain: 27%
— YouGov (@YouGov) January 11, 2022
Whatever happens tomorrow, the fury of Tory MPs – and indeed the public – is surely only going to increase And we are undoubtedly now reaching fever pitch.
And, as history shows us, when Tory MPs see the polls declining, and when they know their power and taxpayer-funded salaries are genuinely under threat because of unpopularity at the top, they are never shy to vote with their feet – by booting out their leader.