Backbench Tories Warn Of "Last Days Of Rome" For Boris Johnson Over Downing Street Police Inquiry
The Conservative party has been plunged into fresh crisis this morning with the announcement that Downing Street will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police over potentially law breaking parties held during the pandemic.
MPs are now terrified that Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick's announcement of the inquiry is the final nail in the coffin for their constituents, and are despairing at the reputational damage the ongoing scandal is doing to the party.
It is believed the Met investigation could be a tipping point and MPs can no longer "defend the indefensible" which may prompt more letters of no confidence to be handed in to the 1922 committee.
"It's the last days of Rome. It's all about perception for the public now," said one Tory MP.
"Even if they don't read newspapers in detail, they now know Johnson had a birthday party in lockdown and the Met are now investigating.
"Many of my voters are appalled. I just don't see how this is survivable.
"He should resign, but he's surrounded himself by sycophants who know they wouldn't have a job under any other Prime Minister.
"If you talk to the older hands in the party, they say they know where this is going, it's just when."
Boris Johnson appeared to have survived last week's threats of a vote of no confidence in his leadership following the dramatic defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to the Labour party and the ongoing threat of conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Some ministers were also quick to suggest the allegations reported by ITV that a birthday party was held for Johnson in Downing Street while Covid restrictions were in place in June 2020 were an overreaction.
A Cabinet Office inquiry into the alleged lockdown parties at Downing Street was expected to conclude this week, but has now been delayed pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. The Met has not indicated how long they expect this to take.
A former minister said Johnson's fate could hinge on the length of the Met police investigation.
"The key question is how long the Met investigation takes," they told PoliticsHome.
"If it's months, he'll probably cling on until the next major crisis. But there's no reason why it should take that long."
They added that the fact that Police were investigating in itself could push Tory MPs to submit letters of no confidence.
But another former minister doubted the interpretation that a lengthy police investigation could prove to be a saving grace for Johnson. "I don't believe the Prime Minister relying on the defence that Downing Street is under active criminal investigation will have the calming effect that some colleagues appear to think it will," they said.
One Tory MP elected in 2019 said the Met announcement could give the Prime Minister some "breathing space" this week, but suspected the anger from constituents might force some of them to act quicker than they had planned.
Former minister and chair of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, also believed that "confidence is slipping away" in the Prime Minister.
Ellwood, who has previously been critical of Johnson's conduct, said the Met investigation "adds to the misery" that the party and the government continues to endure.
"Many MPs have adopted the position to wait for that Sue Gray report, that I don't think is going to change, but it will probably galvanise people's position," he said.
"We are in this strange impasse just now, a holding pattern if you like. It is an opportunity for Number 10 to demonstrate how Downing Street will be overhauled, how things will change, how discipline, focus, indeed the very culture will advance, and we are not seeing that. That is the tragedy of what is happening at the moment."
Labour MP Neil Coyle, who had called on the Met to investigate in a letter to Dick last month, criticised the police for taking so long to launch an inquiry.
"The Met have plodded along under Dick from crisis to crisis and it was obvious to all involved that an investigation was required – except to the Commissioner it seems," Coyle told PoliticsHome.
"I asked for the Met to investigate at the start of December. It is appalling that it has taken so long to begin investigating but I hope it concludes faster than it has taken to begin."
Additional reporting: Adam Payne, John Johnston, Alain Tolhurst and Noa Hoffman.
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