Minister insists Boris Johnson safe in job as Tory MP deluged by angry emails

One MP suggests affair raises questions about ‘moral authority’ at top of government

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 17 January 2022 09:09
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Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has claimed Boris Johnson is safe in his job — after being asked three times about the prime minister’s perilous position.

Despite growing anger from Tory MPs and calls for the prime minister’s resignation after multiple allegations of rule-busting parties in No 10 during Covid restrictions, the education secretary said “he’s human and we make mistakes”.

On Sunday evening, one Conservative MP said they had received an “enormous” number of emails from constituents over the gatherings and suggested the affair raised questions about the “moral authority” at the top of government.

Several MPs have also publicly proclaimed in recent days to have submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership to Sir Graham Brady — the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories.

Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Mr Johnson was “safe in his job”, he replied: “I think Boris Johnson has done the right thing to apologise.”

Pressed again, Mr Zahawi said: “I think the prime minister on the big, big decisions, if you look at the way he did on Brexit, on vaccines, on Omicron pre-Christmas, on the economy, has called it right.”

Questioned a third time, the cabinet minister eventually replied: “Yes, he is, because he’s human and we make mistakes.

“And, actually, he came to the despatch box and apologised and said he will absolutely submit himself to Parliament, because that’s our parliamentary democracy.”

The cabinet minister stressed that when Sue Gray, the civil servant tasked with investigating rule-breaking events, produces her report to No 10, the prime minister will face MPs’ questions in the Commons.

Defending the prime minister, the education secretary added: “I think it’s really important you don’t condemn a man before you’ve had the investigation”.

After Mr Johnson’s apology to MPs last week — despite claiming he believed the No 10 rose garden party on 20 May, 2020 was a “work event” — Mr Zahawi also attempted to say the prime minister attended the gathering to “motivate his workforce”.

Speaking on the Westminster Hour on Sunday evening, however, the Tory MP Chris Loder said the “vast majority” of the “enormous” number of emails from constituents he had received were “critical of the prime minister”.

The Conservative, who was elected in 2019, said: “As I’ve said, I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation until I’ve seen the facts, but then real action is required, and then we shall go from there.”

“There is no two ways about it, there are a good number of people at home for me who feel very strongly.

“The fundamental point is they need to be able to trust the leadership, and when that is in question, you really have a question over the moral authority in terms of governance, I think.”

Mr Loder added that he thought there was a “considerable level of nervousness” among Tory MPs as they wait to see what is in the Sue Gray report, claiming: “Boris is a bit of a survivor. I think this is a difficult time for him, and there are a number of us that are very sad about this.”

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