Fury from senior Tory MPs as Boris Johnson admits he attended Downing Street garden party

 Fury from senior Tory MPs as Boris Johnson admits he attended Downing Street garden party

Boris Johnson is “politically a dead man walking” over his admission he attended a Downing Street garden party during lockdown, a veteran Tory MP has declared.

Sir Roger Gale, an arch critic of the Prime Minister, dismissed Mr Johnson’s attempt to apologise to the Commons, saying it has “left people like me in an impossible situation”.

The North Thanet MP led public criticism of the Prime Minister that was echoed privately by a series of senior Tory MPs.

The furious backlash was sparked by Mr Johnson’s statement during Prime Minister’s Questions about allegations he had attended a Covid rule-breaching party on May 20 2020 in the Downing Street garden.

Mr Johnson apologised for attending the event, and acknowledged the public’s “rage” over the incident, but insisted he thought it could technically have been within the rules.

He told MPs he went to the gathering for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff”, adding that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

Sir Roger expressed incredulity at Mr Johnson’s claim to have thought the gathering was work-focused, saying: “We now know that the Prime Minister spent 25 minutes at a, what, bring-a-bottle work event?”

The MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “I’m sorry, the Prime Minister said on 8 December in the House at the Despatch Box that he had been repeatedly assured that these allegations [of rule-breaching parties in Downing Street] were unfounded, that there was no party and no Covid rules were broken.

“Well we now know the Prime Minister spent 25 mins at what was quite clearly a party and that means that he misled the House.”

The Conservative MP, who previously confirmed he has submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, said he expected “it is going to have to be the work of the 1922 committee to determine precisely how we proceed”.

Sir Roger said: “It sounds to me as though very much politically the Prime Minister is a dead man walking.”

Doubt was also cast on Mr Johnson’s explanation of his actions by Tory MP Stephen Hammond, who said: “It clearly was not a work event and that is the problem. I think it’s pretty surprising the PM wasn’t briefed to that effect.”

Privately, a series of senior Tories offered critical assessments of Mr Johnson’s handling of the situation.

One Tory MP who surveyed the mood during PMQs told The Telegraph: “I watched my own benches. No one [was] happy.”

Another MP said: “The problem with a s**t show is someone else has to clean it up.”

A third Conservative MP was more circumspect about Mr Johnson’s performance, however, arguing that while the PM had “not changed any minds”, there had been “no killer blow today”.

The MP added: “He’s taken on a lot of water and is listing but not quite sunk yet.”

Before PMQs, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart had been the first Cabinet minister to break ranks over the issue.

Describing the debacle as “something of significant public concern”, WalesOnline said Mr Hart told reporters at a briefing: “I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.”

Questions over Chancellor’s absence from PMQs

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, sparked intrigue with a visit to Ilfracombe in Devon to promote his “Plan for Jobs” policy. Sources close to Mr Sunak insisted the visit had been planned 10 days ago and that his absence from PMQs – where he normally appears by Mr Johnson’s side – was not in response to the growing row over alleged parties.

However, Mr Sunak’s absence raised eyebrows among colleagues. The Chancellor is also understood to have refused local media interview requests during the visit, with his team citing “time constraints”.

Other Conservative MPs were willing to publicly defend Mr Johnson. Sir Christopher Chope told Sky News he felt the Prime Minister had made “the most abject and fulsome apology” at PMQs.

Another Tory MP said: “He’s done the right thing. He was bang to rights and the evidence was against him. He had to apologise. It’s not the end of it, but politics is about much more than what happened in May 2020.”

Related post