A photograph obtained by ITV News of the prime minister raising a glass at a leaving party on November 13, 2020, with bottles of alcohol and party food on the table in front of him. (Photo: ITV/PA)
An influential Conservative MP has shared an NHS campaign poster urging people to obey lockdown rules soon after photos emerged showing Boris Johnson raising a glass at a leaving party in Downing Street – appearing to break those rules.
Steve Baker, who was pivotal in bringing down Theresa May over Brexit, posted the image of a woman breathing through an oxygen mask with the message: “Look into her eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”
No comment was added to the image.
In April, Baker, a former minister, called for the prime minister to quit over partygate, telling the Commons: “The prime minister now should be long gone. Really, the prime minister should just know the gig’s up.”
Johnson had been facing increasing pressure from his own MPs after he was handed a fixed-penalty notice for a gathering for his 56th birthday in June 2020.
But efforts to force him out seemed to have eased after the Metropolitan Police last week concluded its inquiry into partygate, and took no further action against the PM.
After ITV News published four images on Monday, showing the prime minister with a drink in his hand while standing behind a table littered with wine bottles and food, there were signs Tory unease had returned.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross – another who had urged Johnson to go –demanded the prime minister explain why he believes his behaviour was “acceptable” when most will think the pictures “seem unjustifiable and wrong”.
His predecessor, Ruth Davidson, went further by saying Johnson should resign.
“He lied to parliament.”
Tory peer Ruth Davidson tells @krishgm photos of the prime minister “raising a toast” with bottles of wine nearby are evidence he lied to parliament over this event.https://t.co/wz8YEpDtWb
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) May 23, 2022
For disquiet to translate into a leadership challenge, 53 Tory MPs would need to to write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a vote of no confidence.
However, some of those demanding Johnson’s resignation at the start of the year have since withdrawn their letters arguing that the crisis in Ukraine is the wrong time for a prolonged leadership struggle.
And some Conservatives were standing by their leader, with backbencher Peter Bone suggesting the image “doesn’t prove anything”.
"A picture, somewhat pixelated, as you rightly say, doesn't prove anything."
Conservative MP @PeterBoneUK defends Boris Johnson on #TimesRadio as new Partygate pictures emerge | @JPonpoliticspic.twitter.com/KN2NghpxfJ
— Times Radio (@TimesRadio) May 23, 2022
Downing Street declined to defend the scene portrayed, saying the prime minister will comment after the Sue Gray report into partygate is published in the coming days.
The pictures were taken at a leaving party for then-director of communications Lee Cain on November 13 2020, eight days after Johnson imposed England’s second national coronavirus lockdown.
For four weeks, people were banned from social mixing, other than to meet one person outside.
Johnson had previously told the Commons there was “no” party in Downing Street on that date – raising questions about whether he knowingly misled parliament, which would mean he would be expected to offer his resignation.
Other reaction on social media poked fun at the Metropolitan Police (which has reportedly fined at least one person attending the November 13 event, but not the PM), the “ambushed by cake” defence and the campaign to accuse Keir Starmer of breaking lockdown rules too.
Would this be helpful to the Met? pic.twitter.com/oCarwh5zTm
— Ned Hartley (@NedHartley) May 23, 2022
the photo of Boris Johnson with several colleagues and empty wine bottles during lockdown raises serious questions for Keir Starmer
— Henry Mance (@henrymance) May 23, 2022
Boris Johnson appears to have a Dishoom takeaway on the table, so actually currygate is about him pic.twitter.com/zsmpMBW94G
— Alexander Brown (@AlexofBrown) May 23, 2022
Come on - he's clearly just been ambushed by the large table filled with booze and snacks. https://t.co/dwWMUgRGR4
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) May 23, 2022
The ghosts don’t look into it do they pic.twitter.com/Oi0ChveBuF
— Gwdihŵ 🦉 (@youwouldknow) May 23, 2022
Surely the picture of this administration pic.twitter.com/ls9kc0TBYi
— Frances Weetman 🇺🇦 (@francesweetman) May 23, 2022
There are enough empty glasses and half-empty wine and gin bottles on that table to indicate this was a proper sesh. And there’s a dispenser of hand sanitiser. Maybe for when the champagne ran out https://t.co/x7araNY52p
— Alex von Tunzelmann (@alexvtunzelmann) May 23, 2022
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.