Boris Johnson was “ambushed with a cake” during his No 10 birthday gathering held during lockdown restrictions, a Conservative MP has claimed.
Conor Burns defended the prime minister over the Downing Street event on 19 June 2020 – and claimed it was not a “pre-mediated” party.
“It was not a pre-mediated, organised party … that the prime minister decided to have,” the loyal Tory MP told Channel 4 News on Tuesday evening.
Mr Burns said: “As far as I can see, he was, in a sense, ambushed with a cake.”
The junior minister added: “They came to his office with a cake, they sang happy birthday, he was there for 10 minutes – I don’t think most people looking at that at home would characterise that as a party.”
Mr Johnson is battling to save his premiership after police launched a criminal probe into possible breaches of Covid regulations at No 10 and Whitehall departments.
Top civil servant Sue Gray’s report into pandemic-era parties in government is set for publication as early as Wednesday – with the PM expected to address the Commons within 24 hours of receiving it.
Stuart Anderson, another backbencher loyal to Mr Johnson, urged MPs in the Commons to stop attacking the PM’s authority and claimed it was making Russian president Vladimir Putin “stronger” amid the Ukraine crisis.
However, Conservative critics of Mr Johnson told The Independent they expect Ms Gray’s report to be “damning” enough to potentially trigger the 54 letters of no confidence needed to force a vote on Johnson’s position within days.
One red wall Tory MP opposed to his leadership told The Independent: “I think the Sue Gray report should be damning enough to change minds about sending in a letter – there’s a lot of colleagues considering sending in letters.”
“Whether we get to 54 letters will depend on just how damning it is. People have to make up their mind whether the PM is worth saving, and whether he is now a disaster for the party.”
One former Conservative minister – who has made up their mind that Mr Johnson must be replaced – added: “A serving prime minister investigated by the police is a national embarrassment. If the Gray report is really bad there will a deluge [of letters].”
MP Andrew Bridgen, who has already sent his letter to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said he hoped that Ms Gray’s report would be published as soon as possible since the partygate scandal was “paralysing the government”.
Tory whips were said to have told MPs that Ms Gray’s report will be released on Wednesday. But other reports suggested No 10 would not receive the report until Wednesday, raising the possibility it could be be published on Thursday.
Mr Johnson will publish it “in full, with no cuts, no censorship, no redactions” a few hours after receiving it, according to ITV’s Robert Peston.
It comes as Sky News reported that Ms Gray received photographs of No 10 parties which include Mr Johnson and others standing “close together”.
All social gatherings indoors were forbidden under restrictions at the time of Mr Johnson’s birthday gathering on 19 June 2020, with a relaxation of the regulations permitting gatherings of up to six people to take place outside.
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