Boris Johnson will face the House of Commons later amid intense pressure from Conservative MPs and Tory donors – and in the face of public anger – to answer questions over a “bring your own booze” event in Downing Street during the first COVID lockdown.
The prime minister, who has so far avoided questions over fresh allegations of a lockdown-busting party in Number 10, will appear in front of MPs from noon in what is set to be one of the most important Commons moments of his political life.
Tory MPs have openly speculated about Mr Johnson having to resign if he is found to have breached strict coronavirus rules at the height of the UK’s first national lockdown.
And both Conservatives and opposition MPs are demanding the prime minister confirms whether or not he attended a drinks gathering in the Downing Street garden on 20 May, 2020.
Sky News understands Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie were among around 40 people present at the event at the height of the UK’s first national lockdown.
Up until now, the prime minister and Number 10 officials have refused to comment on the 20 May event because a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, is continuing her investigation into multiple allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking in Downing Street.
Mr Johnson dodged a Commons appearance on Tuesday to answer questions about the fresh “partygate” claims and instead sent a junior government minister to face MPs.
But there have been growing demands for the prime minister to come forward with a full account of the 20 May event, which is revealed to have been organised by one of his key aides.
Labour demand ‘yes or no’ answer
Labour will attempt to use Mr Johnson’s appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday lunchtime to extract a “yes or no” answer over whether he was present at the 20 May event.
The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson needs to stop wasting everyone’s time and treating the British public like fools.
“He can’t hide anymore. He needs to finally come clean and answer the question: did he break the lockdown rules he ordered the rest of us to follow. Yes or no?”
Ms Rayner last week deputised for Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs after the Labour leader tested positive for COVID for a second time.
But Sir Keir could return to the Commons despatch box if, under new coronavirus guidelines, he provides the second of two negative lateral flow results, taken 24 hours apart, on Wednesday morning.
Tories also want answers
There is also serious pressure from among Mr Johnson’s own party for him to explain the 20 May event during PMQs, with some Tory MPs viewing the prime minister’s answers as crucial to his chances of political survival.
Douglas Ross, the Moray MP and Scottish Conservative leader, described himself as “furious” about the new allegations and told Sky News that Mr Johnson needed to “settle this right now”.
He also insisted Mr Johnson would have to quit as prime minister if he was found to have broken COVID regulations or misled parliament over the “partygate” row.
Robbie Moore, Conservative MP for Keighley, said he was “infuriated” by the emergence of an email from Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, that invited Number 10 staff to “make the most of the lovely weather” with “some socially distanced drinks” on 20 May.
At the time, Britons had only recently been allowed to meet with one person from another household outside as long as they remained two metres apart. Mixing with multiple households was still banned.
Mr Moore said answers were “needed quickly”, while Plymouth Moor View MP Johnny Mercer described the fresh row as “humiliating” in a public apology to a constituent.
PM ‘should consider his position’
In her own replies to irate constituents, Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes wrote: “I have no words that can adequately express how angry I am at the ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ attitude that appears to have prevailed in Downing Street.”
Derek Thomas, Conservative MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, warned that if Ms Gray’s inquiry or the Metropolitan Police found that “the alleged activities were illegal and that the PM knew this, or was involved, then I think he should consider his position”.
Poole MP Sir Robert Syms, posted on Twitter on Tuesday night: “I agree these are serious allegations and I hope we get a full explanation from the PM tomorrow!”
There was also anger among Conservative donors, with Phones4U founder John Caudwell telling the prime minister: “Sort it out, Boris, or step aside and let someone else sort it out so that the Tories aren’t wiped out at the next election.”
Polls suggest public turning against PM
Two opinion polls on Tuesday suggested the public was turning against the prime minister.
A YouGov poll showed 56% of respondents believed Mr Johnson should resign over the fresh “partygate” allegations, with 27% saying he should remain.
And a Savanta ComRes study found 66% of British adults thought he should quit as prime minister, with 24% saying he should stay.
Mr Johnson is also facing anger from the families of COVID victims, with Hannah Brady – whose father died with coronavirus in May 2020 – writing to the prime minister to tell him it was “simply a matter of common decency and respect” for him to provide answers.