Sun, 25 February 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Press releases

No10 culture buck firmly rests with the Prime Minister – he must go

4 min read

I’ve started shouting at the television again – not that I really stopped, it just became less frequent and not so loud.

But on 12 January, I was more cross than ever and apologise to my neighbours for the noise. I was watching Boris Johnson give the most unapologetic of apologies at the beginning of Prime Ministers Questions.

His ministerial colleagues and Conservative MPs sat in stony silence which spoke volumes. Conservative MPs asked about anything other than the bombshell dropped by Boris Johnson. Don’t mention the parties! He had finally admitted what had been abundantly clear for days – he had indeed attended what was equally unquestionable, a party in his garden at Downing Street.

Johnson claims he thought it was a work event within the Covid laws of the first lockdown in 2020. In the tearoom after PMQs, the Prime Minister reportedly told unimpressed Conservatives he was taking the blame for the mistakes of others. Classic Johnson. He’s done nothing wrong and it’s everyone else’s fault. The wriggling and weasel words, the bleating that “Sue Gray” will settle the matter, is making his position even more perilous.

We can all agree on one thing as this fast-moving crisis evolves and we speculate as to how it might end. Theresa May would no more have allowed illegal partying or wine o’clock Fridays on her Prime Ministerial watch, than she would leave the No 11 flat in “a tip”. The point being of course, that the No 10 culture buck firmly rests with the Prime Minister. He or she sets the tone and appoints the people to do their bidding.

Self-preservation is the name of today’s game, so it remains to be seen whether Conservative MPs will move swiftly against him

Last week I had supper with a new friend. She describes herself as a “true blue Tory”; voted for Boris Johnson and voted for Brexit. My pal served for many years in Parliament working for a number of Conservative MPs and running at least one Westminster office. I was cross, but her anger verged on “incandescent with rage”.  She was clear - he had no defence, there was no mitigation, it was beyond unforgivable and Boris Johnson had to go.

I have no doubt these views are shared by a number of my former Conservative colleagues, though at the time of writing little more than a handful have had the courage to say so in public. It’s impossible to believe that most haven’t returned from their constituencies with their ears ringing from the anger and even disgust of association members, but more importantly their constituents.

It’s a sad truth that nowadays acting on principle is a quality lost on most Members of Parliament. Self-preservation is the name of today’s game, so it remains to be seen whether Conservative MPs will move swiftly against him. They would do so to save their seat – not because their leader has broken the rules, failed to be honest about it and is dumping the blame on those who work for him.

When stories of illegal Christmas parties emerged a few weeks ago the Prime Minister didn’t deny the allegations, saying “all guidance was followed completely in No 10”. One week and an Allegra Stratton video later, Johnson told the House: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”. The same Boris Johnson who last week finally admitted he had attended one such party on May 20 2020.

It’s now alleged that at the time of that May party, at least two people spoke to Johnson questioning whether it should be held. If true, then there’s no doubt the Prime Minister knew fine well there had been at least one party when he told Parliament otherwise. It’s a serious allegation but one I believe is properly made out. The Prime Minister deliberately misled Parliament (lied) at the despatch box. He must go.


Anna Soubry is the former Conservative and Change UK MP for Broxtowe.

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.


Political parties