Minister Says His Inbox Is "White Hot" With Furious Emails About Boris Johnson
James Heappey has defended the Prime Minister's claims he believed he was attending a work event
James Heappey has urged the public to wait for the Sue Gray report as he admitted his inbox was "glowing white hot" with angry emails.
The armed forces minister has admitted the Prime Minister's explanation for attending a Downing Street gathering "sounds absurd" but only to those who "don't see the way the Prime Minister's day is put together."
Unrest among Tory MPs has been growing in recent days as Boris Johnson continues to struggle to explain his reasons for attending the May 2020 gathering, claiming on Tuesday that no one had told him the event could breach the Covid rules.
But speaking to Sky News, Heappey said he could "understand" Johnson's claims, saying the Prime Minister does not have control over his own diary.
"My take as someone who has worked in Downing Street is that the Prime Minister doesn’t really own his own diary, and it really is for his team to have had his back," he said.
"I can perfectly imagine from having worked closely with him and in Number 10 exactly how this happened.
"He will have been grabbed from an office at the end of a busy day of very significant decisions around the pandemic and everything else that was going on in the world, and will have been launched into an event that he himself said at the despatch box in hindsight he should have shut down immediately."
Heappey, who spent six months working as the PM's principal private secretary, said it was common for him to "bounce" between events with little warning about where he was going.
"It is the most extraordinary job - you can bounce from a National Security Council meeting straight into a meeting with fellow ministers on a domestic policy issue, straight into a phone call with a foreign leader," he said.
"And then someone comes and grabs you from your office and takes you down to the garden and in the 30 seconds that takes to go down the stairs you get a pre-brief on what is going on."
On Tuesday, a group of Tory MPs first elected in the 2019 election met to discuss their response to the growing crisis in Downing Street, with reports they could submit a wave of letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
Under Conservative Party rules, if 54 Tory MPs submit letters to the backbench 1922 committee, it would trigger a vote of no confidence against Johnson.
But Heappey called for patience from both his colleages and the public, saying they should wait to see the conclusions of Sue Gray's report.
"People are furious - my inbox is glowing white hot," he said.
"I'm choosing to give the man who I have worked with closely the benefit of the doubt. But for millions who don't want to, I ask them to wait for the Sue Gray report."
The junior minister also refused to answer "hypothetical" questions about whether the Prime Minister should resign if he is found to have breached the Covid regulations, saying it was "perfectly reasonable" to wait for the inquiry to conclude.
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