PM ‘questioned by Sue Gray’ as another claim of a No 10 party emerges
Boris Johnson has reportedly been interviewed as part of the investigation into partygate allegations as claims of another lockdown breach in No 10 surfaced.
The Prime Minister is said to have “shared what he knows” with senior civil servant Sue Gray about alleged parties in Downing Street as she prepares to publish her report into claims of coronavirus rule flouting as soon as this week, the Daily Telegraph reported.
It comes as The Mirror said Mr Johnson attended a leaving do before Christmas 2020 during which he gave a speech to mark the departure of his defence adviser Captain Steve Higham.
No 10 did not respond to request for comment and the Ministry of Defence declined.
The leaving do claim is the latest in a long line of allegations about rule breaking in Downing Street, with Ms Gray looking into a litany of possible events, including a “bring your own booze” garden party during the first coronavirus lockdown that Mr Johnson has admitted he attended – although he insists he understood it to be a “work event”.
Mr Johnson’s sister, journalist and LBC presenter Rachel Johnson, told her listeners on Sunday that the Prime Minister was “completely compliant” with Covid rules whenever they met under restrictions.
Referring to the May 20 2020 BYOB event, she said: “To my mind, if he did go out into the garden, and he has told us he did, for him that would have been work.”
In a bid to survive the partygate storm, reports have suggested Mr Johnson could overhaul his top team, with the likes of his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who sent an email inviting staff to enjoy the good weather in the No 10 garden in May 2020, being shown the door as part of a move said to have been dubbed “Operation: Save Big Dog”.
The Times said a bid to save Mr Johnson’s premiership would include an announcement putting the military in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel, as the Prime Minister looks to push “populist” policies.
A change being considered could, according to the newspaper, include processing asylum seekers in Ghana and Rwanda, although the Home Office would not be drawn on such suggestions.
Other touted policy announcements include attempts to reduce the NHS backlog and freeze the BBC licence fee for two years, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries hinting that the current model for funding the public broadcaster could be scrapped altogether.
Social media pictures surfaced on Sunday, apparently showing the office of Robert Largan, the Tory MP for High Peak, graffitied repeatedly with the words “Lies”.
It comes as Tory MPs wrestled publicly with their conscience over the weekend as a sixth backbencher, Tim Loughton, demanded that the Prime Minister resign, citing the “terminal damage” the revelations have done to his reputation.
Others, such as former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said it was for Ms Gray to determine what Mr Johnson knew about possible lockdown breaches in No 10, while newer MPs suggested the affair raised questions about the “moral authority” at the top of Government.
West Dorset MP Chris Loder, who was elected in 2019, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “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.”
Disgusted to learn of the vandalism to @RobertLargan's constituency office. Robert and I disagree on many things, but in a democracy, we all agree Elected Representatives should be able to carry out their public service without fear of intimidation or harm.#HighPeak pic.twitter.com/jgkzVvgTiw
— 𝗗𝗮𝗺𝗶𝗲𝗻 𝗚𝗿𝗲𝗲𝗻𝗵𝗮𝗹𝗴𝗵 (@Damientg) January 16, 2022
Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said he would wait to read the conclusions of the investigation but admitted there was “a lot of ill-feeling out there and discomfort” on the Tory benches.
The former party vice-chairman said he thought Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg should apologise to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross after he branded him “lightweight” following his call for the Prime Minister to stand down.
Mr Bowie told the Westminster Hour that Mr Ross was “by no way a lightweight”.
Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland – who was sacked from the Cabinet by the Prime Minister in September – told Times Radio that it would be “a bridge too far” for the No 10 incumbent if it emerged in Ms Gray’s report that “people at the top of Government” were involved in “organising and planning and absolutely openly disregarding the rules”.
For a Tory leadership contest to be triggered, 54 letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson have to be submitted by MPs to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, asking for a vote on his future.
Sir Graham does not publicly state how many letters he has received, but reports suggest about 20 might have been handed in.