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Tory MPs Question Boris Johnson's Competence Over "Disastrous" Handling Of Party Row


4 min read

Backbench Tory MPs are beginning to question the Prime Minister’s future amid backlash over his handling of the Downing Street Christmas party row.

Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that he “apologised unreservedly” for the actions of Downing Street staff after footage was released showing them laughing at the idea of breaking coronavirus rules to host a Christmas party.

But he claimed he had been “repeatedly assured” that no party took place and that no rules were broken by his staff.

The row has further soured Johnson's relationship with his backbench MPs, many of whom had their confidence in the PM knocked by the government’s handling of Owen Paterson’s suspension

Asked by how they felt about the PMs apology in the Commons, one Red Wall MP simply said: “Eurgh is my only thought.”

“I think this is a bit of a colossal disaster for Number 10,” another Tory MP told PoliticsHome.

“He seems to be sticking to the 'it didn’t happen' line, which we all know is total rubbish. 

“I guess he believes that it'll end up as a Westminster bubble issue and won't cut through. And he can tough it out.”

They added: “Backbenchers are not happy (again), and his political and leadership capital with them is the real danger.”

One senior backbench Tory said Johnson's apology today was “a start” but added that they were frustrated that there was “still no admission of the party taking place”. 

They continued: “If he was repeatedly assured by advisors, why does he have advisors who repeatedly lie to him? The charge of a poor Downing Street operation doesn't go away — the issue of competence is still live."

Other MPs expressed frustration at how long the discussion of the Christmas party had continued on for.

A 2019-intake Tory MP told PoliticsHome they were “fuming” over the delay.

"[Johnson has] made the right decision, but no idea why it took him so long to get there,” they said. 

One senior Tory MP said the atmosphere in parliament's tearooms was "toxic" this morning.

"Those with slim majorities are very concerned and quite reasonably so," they said. 

"When you are looking at people with 2,000 majorities in the red wall they feel let down. Some of them are on their knees.

"They can just see that everything that they have done is being undermined at a stroke."

There is concern among Tories that the party could be punished at a by-election in Shropshire North next week, which was triggered after Owen Paterson was forced to resign as a result of the sleaze scandal. 

"I think what's happened has sunk all hope for Shropshire North," the senior MP said.

"We were hearing bad things anyway, but that's going to have to be sacrificed to make the point that there have been a series of bad decisions."

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has said Johnson must resign if it transpires he has misled Parliament about the Christmas party. 

"If the Prime Minister knew about this party last December, knew about this party last week, and was still denying it, then that is the most serious allegation," he told the BBC.

"There is absolutely no way you can mislead parliament and think you could get off with that.

Ross added: "No one should continue in their post if they mislead parliament in that way."

Johnson announced on Wednesday that he’d asked the Cabinet Secretary to look into the reports of a Christmas party, despite continuing his insistence that no such event took place. 

His official spokesperson told reporters that the investigation would be finished “as soon as possible”, but would not say whether it would report back before Christmas.

They also refused to repeat the Prime Minister's denial that a party took place. 

"The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish the facts," they said.
"While that process is ongoing, it wouldn't be right to comment further.”
The spokesperson confirmed the inquiry will only cover the events of 18 December, despite allegations in the media and from former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings that other parties took place.

A snap Savanta ComRes poll on Wednesday found that over half (54%) of Brits thought Boris Johnson should resign over reports of a lockdown Christmas party in Downing Street, including a third (33%) of Conservative voters.

Separate polling by Opinium for Sky News also found that the public didn’t believe the PM’s claims that no party took place, with just 9% agreeing compared to 64% who disagreed.

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