Exasperated Tories Warn "BYOB" Downing Street Party Could Spell "Ruin" For Boris Johnson
Furious Tory MPs are once again questioning Boris Johnson’s leadership following allegations he attended a pre-organised garden party in Downing Street while the UK was under a strict lockdown.
A bombshell email leaked to ITV on Monday night showed Johnson's Private Secretary Martin Reynolds invited 100 staff to a "bring your own booze" party in the Number 10 garden. The report says around 40 staff attended the gathering on 20 May — including Johnson and his wife, Carrie.
One Tory MP said growing anger in the party over a succession of recent scandals “had just about started to subside” over Christmas, but “now the mood is really grim”.
“It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister wriggles out of this one," they told PoliticsHome. "This looks like it could be ruin for him.”
Under lockdown restrictions in force at the time, people were only permitted to mix with one person outside of their household, two meters apart and in an outdoor setting.
This afternoon Angela Rayner asked an Urgent Question about the allegations in the Commons today, pushing Labour's insistence that Johnson “comes clean” with details of the event. Paymaster General Michael Ellis, rather than Johnson, provided a response from the government.
"The public have already drawn their conclusions," Rayner told the Commons.
"[The Prime Minister] can run but he can’t hide."
While Downing Street has not denied the allegations, Johnson has so far refused to comment, pointing to an ongoing investigation by civil servant Sue Gray, who is already conducting a wider inquiry into a string of alleged lockdown breaking gatherings reported to have taken place in Downing Street and various Whitehall departments in 2020.
But Rayner said the response was insufficient in light of the "huge personal sacrifices" made by many during the pandemic.
"It won’t wash to blame this on a few junior civil servants, the Prime Minister sets the tone. If the Prime Minister was there, surely he knew," she told the Commons.
Ellis told Rayner that the "reality of the matter" was that the government was awaiting the outcome of Gray's investigation.
The mood across the party was grave as the dust settled on the fresh allegations against Downing Street this morning.
“In the latest of these shitshows, it’s about time to change the channel,” one Tory MP told PoliticsHome.
“It’s not credible to hide behind the inquiry with this and it’s indefensible.”
The MP added that while they support a change in leadership, they do not intend to send a formal letter to 1922 committee chair Graham Brady, which is required to trigger the process of ousting a Conservative leader.
“I still think [Johnson would] survive a no confidence vote,” the MP said, noting that if he did, it would block further challenges within twelve months, as was the case when Tories tried to remove Theresa May from the leadership when she was Prime Minister.
Another Tory backbencher said his party's MPs were "absolutely livid" today. "It's this constant day by day stuff that's coming out, having to defend things that have nothing to do with government policy," they said.
"The public have already drawn their conclusions on the parties, and if [the government] think the public have any conclusion other than they broke the rules, then they're fools.
"Boris Johnson cannot win another general election, it's as simple as that. The public are not going to forgive this.
"If he was at the parties, he needs to go."
If Gray's investigation finds that Johnson was in attendance at the party, and he is not forced to stand down as a result, there is concern among Tory MPs that they will be punished at the ballot box in May's local elections, and later at the next General Election.
"Within the week of those local elections you've got all the new taxes in people's pay packets," the backbencher continued .So you've got a Prime Minister that didn't follow the rules, and you've got your council tax demand, and your national insurance increases".
They added: "Starmer and the SNP will win the next election."
A government insider working for a cabinet minister agreed that Johnson is in "serious trouble".
"It’s starting to make Tories angry,” they told PoliticsHome.
But while anger has been palpable across much of the Conservative Party, other MPs do not believe it will affect them, and think Johnson can ride out the scandal until voters becoming fatigued with the story.
"If there was only 30 of them [in attendance at the party] it was probably alright,” one MP said.
A Parliamentary Private Secretary observed that “all of the Tory MPs I speak to are just getting on with their jobs”.
This afternoon Johnson’s official spokesperson did not deny the Prime Minister attended the "bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden. But they would not engage with questions on whether lockdown laws had been broken, or whether Johnson had misled the Commons over previous party allegations late last year.
Johnson’s official spokesperson said it was a "matter of course" to hold meetings in the Downing Street garden during summer.
On Monday the Metropolitan Police confirmed they are in contact with the Cabinet Office over the alleged breach of lockdown rules. Johnson's spokesperson confirmed Gray's inquiry would be "paused" if Police launch a formal investigation.
They were unable to say whether the Met had so far asked for any evidence from the government.
Johnson's spokesperson also confirmed Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister's principal private secretary, "continues in his role" after ITV news revealed he invited employees to the gathering during England's first lockdown in May 2020.
Additional reporting by Kate Proctor, Alain Tolhurst, Adam Payne and Eleanor Langford
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