Nobody told me drinks event was against rules, says Boris Johnson as MPs plot downfall

Exclusive: Poll finds more than half of Tory voters do not believe PM is telling truth as 20 more MPs reportedly set to lodge letters of no-confidence

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 19 January 2022 07:04
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Boris Johnson says ‘nobody told me’ Downing Street party broke lockdown rules

Boris Johnson has insisted he wasn’t told it was against the rules for him to attend a gathering in the garden of No 10 during lockdown – but did not rule out resigning as he faced a mounting revolt from Tory backbenchers.

Pressure mounted on the prime minister as a seventh Tory MP confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, with 20 more reportedly set to follow suit on Wednesday in a growing mutiny emboldened by the party’s 2019 parliamentary intake.

“No matter what Sue Gray decides, I think the voters have already decided,” said one MP who indicated they would not wait for findings of the Downing Street party probe before acting to end Mr Johnson’s premiership.

A group of angry red wall Tory MPs reportedly met to plan Mr Johnson’s downfall on Wednesday in a move dubbed the “Pork Pie Plot” because it allegedly involves Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton – home of the Melton Mowbray delicacy.

The meeting came after the PM appeared in public on Tuesday for the first time since former aide Dominic Cummings claimed he warned in advance of a “bring-your-own-booze” party in Downing Street.

Cutting a downcast figure, Mr Johnson hung his head and sighed heavily as he publically apologised to the Queen for a separate leaving party held in No 10 on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

Confirming that he will give evidence to the Gray inquiry, Mr Cummings denounced Mr Johnson’s defence as “catastrophic”, telling him via social media: “The more media you do defending yourself the more you destroy your own support and hasten the inevitable.”

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab confirmed that a minister who “knowingly” misled the House of Commons would normally be expected to resign – a position which Downing Street said was supported by Mr Johnson.

Despite the PM’s categorical denial, an exclusive poll for The Independent found that almost two-thirds of voters (65 per cent) and more than half (54 per cent) of Conservative supporters do not believe the PM’s claim he thought the 20 May 2020 drinks in the Downing Street garden was a “work event”.

An overwhelming 80 per cent of those questioned by Savanta ComRes – including 73 per cent of those who voted Tory in 2019 – agreed that under Johnson there was “one rule for the government and another for everybody else”.

And almost three-quarters (73 per cent) – including 60 per cent of Conservative voters – said they were angry about the reports of repeated drinks parties in No 10.

Following the meeting of members of the 2019 intake of younger MPs, some suggested the expected flurry of letters to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, could take the total to the 54 needed trigger a vote of no confidence as soon as Wednesday.

One told the Daily Telegraph it could be“D-Day” for the PM, adding: “His time has gone.”

Bury South’s Tory MP Christian Wakeford revealed he has submitted a letter of no-confidence to the PM, telling Yahoo News there were other MPs who “have written the letters but haven’t sent them in yet”.

Another member of the 2019 intake, Mark Logan of Bolton North East – who was not at the meeting and has not submitted a letter – told The Independent: “My constituents and myself are unconvinced, and the prime minister really does have to dig deep and show he is prepared to change the culture at the top.

“I don’t really care about Sue Gray’s report, It’s not about waiting for a report, it’s about someone being willing to change personally, not just change personnel.”

Mid-Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham said that it was not acceptable for the prime minister to break rules he had set himself.

“At the end of the day, he made the rules,” Ms Latham told Times Radio. “He was in that briefing room looking at the cameras, saying ‘This is what you have to do’. So you can’t say he didn’t know what the rules were.

“If the truth is that he did mislead parliament, you just can’t do that. Parliament is sacrosanct, we have to tell the truth in parliament, it is such an important principle that we should all adhere to"

Speaking during a hospital visit in London, Mr Johnson repeated his claim that when he spent 25 minutes with staff eating picnic food and drinking alcohol around trestle tables in the No 10 garden, he had been attending a work event.

“I carry full responsibility for what took place,” said the prime minister. “But nobody told me – I’m absolutely categorical – nobody said to me this is an event that is against the rules.”

He added: “I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event, that’s what I’ve said to the inquiry.”

Asked if he would resign if it was found he had misled parliament Mr Johnson said he would “wait and see what the report says”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he believed Mr Johnson’s account, but asked whether the PM would have to resign if he was shown to have lied to parliament, he replied: “The ministerial code is clear on these matters.”

He removed his microphone and walked out of a TV interview when he was pressed on whether he supported the prime minister unequivocally.

Tuesday’s poll suggested that Mr Sunak would be Tory voters’ choice as leader if Mr Johnson is forced out.

Some 51 per cent of those who backed the party in 2019 said they would be more likely to vote Conservative with Sunak at the helm, compared to 23 per cent for his main rival, foreign secretary Liz Truss.

If health secretary Sajid Javid was leader, 29 per cent of Tory voters said they would be more likely to back the party again, while the figure for former health secretary Jeremy Hunt and home secretary Priti Patel was 21 per cent.

Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,166 British adults on 15-16 January

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