Boris Johnson is facing renewed pressure over the Partygate scandal amid suggestions of a second gathering in the No 10 flat and a drip-feed of Tory MPs calling for his resignation.
Despite his attempts to “move on” from the rule-busting events that have rocked his premiership, allegations also emerged over the weekend that officials had attempted to dilute Sue Gray’s report.
On Sunday, the Cabinet Office was forced to issue a statement denying that senior figures had been able to edit or influence the 37-page document that was published on Wednesday.
A spokesperson stressed that Ms Gray’s long-awaited report had been “impartially conducted”, and that its contents “represent the findings and conclusions of the investigation team alone”.
“As with all such investigation reports, the process of obtaining formal representations from those perceived to be criticized prior to publication took place. This is an appropriate and usual process in such matters,” they said.
But Labor said Mr Johnson still had questions to answer after The Sunday Times claimed that messages suggest the prime minister’s wife, Carrie, held a second gathering in the No 10 flat on the evening of 19 June 2020.
The alleged event is not mentioned in Ms Gray’s report, and is said to have been separate from Mr Johnson’s birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room on the same day, in respect of which the couple each received a fixed penalty notice.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said it “looks like yet another cover-up and there are new questions the prime minister must answer for his involvement”. She added: “The public deserve the truth about why the holding of a lockdown party in the prime minister’s flat on his own birthday has not been made public until now.”
the Sunday Times report claimed that messages sent by Ms Johnson on 19 June 2020 appeared to show that she was in the flat with several friends. Under Covid regulations, indoor socializing was banned, but an exemption was in place to allow people to meet for work purposes.
No 10 did not deny the event had taken place, and a spokesperson for Ms Johnson told The Independent: “Ace The Sunday Times acknowledges, Sue Gray was aware of these exchanges as part of her exhaustive inquiry into alleged breaches.
“Staff were given ample opportunity to present evidence, including these messages, and all relevant information was passed to the Metropolitan Police for investigation.”
They added: “The lunchtime gathering in the Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020 was subsequently found to be in breach, and a fixed penalty notice was issued to Ms Johnson, among others, for which she apologized unreservedly and promptly paid the fine.”
The allegations, which threaten to reignite anger over the Partygate scandal, have emerged as a drip-feed of Conservative MPs have publicly called for the prime minister to resign.
Around 25 Tory MPs have urged Mr Johnson to step aside since the scandal emerged, with over a dozen submitting letters of no confidence to the chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
Over the weekend it was revealed that further letters had been submitted by Anne-Marie Morris, who had the whip restored just two weeks ago, and former health minister Steve Brine, with the latter saying a confidence vote was “inevitable”.
In order for such a vote to be triggered, 54 MPs have to write to Sir Graham, but, given the secretive nature of the process, it is currently unclear whether the rebels are close to the threshold.
speaking to The Independent, Sir Roger Gale, one of the first MPs to declare no confidence in the prime minister last December, said: “As far as I’m aware, there’s no orchestrated plot; it seems to be coming from all directions.
“I’ve actually said to James Duddridge [Mr Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary] that if I was him I would have triggered it now.”
Referring to the forthcoming by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton on 23 June, Sir Roger said: “He stands more chance of winning it now than he probably does after a bad by-election result.”
After Mr Johnson came under fire on Friday for amendments made to the ministerial code, Sir Roger added: “Of all times, he’s chosen now to move the goalposts over the ministerial code. That seems to me to be crass stupidity, because that really seriously is going to get up people’s noses I would have thought.”
Another MP, who has submitted a no-confidence letter, said it was “not surprising” there was a drip-feed of colleagues across all wings of the party coming out against the prime minister.
“There is that sense [that] there needs to be a change of direction before the next general election,” they added. “The party has shown in the past it can change direction – we need to demonstrate that now.”
Speaking on Sunday, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, suggested that Mr Johnson would win a confidence vote, but played down the prospect of one taking place, claiming: “I don’t think we’re in that space. I don’t think it’s in the interests of the country; I don’t think it’s in the interests of the Conservative Party. No, I don’t think we will see that happen.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.