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How could Boris Johnson be ousted by Tory MPs?
Boris Johnson is under huge pressure over Partygate, with speculation that he might even opt to walk away.
But barring resignation, the Tories have rules on how to oust and replace the leader.
What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader? Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.
How is that triggered? A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 55 MPs.
Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are.
What happens when the threshold is reached? A vote is held, with the leader technically only needing to win support from a simple majority of MPs
But in reality, a solid victory is essential for them to stay in post.
What happens if the leader loses?
The leader is sacked if they do not win a majority of votes from MPs, and a leadership contest begins in which they cannot stand.
However, they typically stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected.
A majority of Boris Johnson’s cabinet are continuing to support the under-fire Prime Minister after his gave a ‘half-hearted’ apology for a boozy Downing Street garden party during the first Covid lockdown, it emerged tonight.
Twenty out of 28 ministers, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Communities Secretary Michael Gove, have lent their support to Mr Johnson, according to a live blog by gossip website Guido Fawkes.
However, Rishi Sunak had yet to publicly back Mr Johnson. The Chancellor, viewed as a potential successor as Tory leader, was notably absent on a visit to Devon earlier in the day.
And Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross inflicted another stinging blow tonight by calling for Mr Johnson to quit.
‘Regretfully I have to say that his position is no longer tenable,’ he told STV.
‘What we also heard from the Prime Minister today was an apology and he said with hindsight he would have done things differently which for me is an acceptance from the Prime Minister that it was wrong, and therefore, I don’t want to be in this position but I am in a position now where I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.’
Senior Conservatives flooded broadcast studios and social media with praise for the PM following his admission in the Commons this afternoon that he attended a ‘Bring Your Own Booze’ gathering in No10 on May 20, 2020.
At a stormy PMQs, Mr Johnson insisted that that he thought the event was work-related. The PM then toured the private tearoom at Parliament, with MPs saying he apologised for putting them through ‘cr**’ and conceding he was being ‘electrocuted by the anger of the public’.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was the first out of the blocks to back her boss, saying an inquiry led by senior official Sue Gray must be allowed to go ahead.
Ms Dorries wrote on Twitter that the ‘PM was right to personally apologise earlier’, adding: ‘People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that. The inquiry should now be allowed to its work and establish the full facts of what happened’.
Responding to her message, Mr Gove: ‘Nadine is right.’
And the former leadership hopeful also backed up the PM to the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, where he is reported to have said Mr Johnson ‘gets the big calls right’ and urged colleagues not to be ‘flaky’.
Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told ITV it was a ‘daft question’ when asked whether he would run again for the Tory leadership.
What were the rules for work gatherings on May 20, 2020 and how could Boris claim the No10 event did not break them?
On the date of the Downing Street ‘party’ on May 20, 2020 the rules on social gatherings were clear.
No more than two people from different households could mix indoors or outdoors.
Further than that, people were only allowed to leave home with a ‘reasonable excuse’.
However, there have been exemptions for those whose jobs require them to go to a workplace or work in larger groups.
While he acknowledged that the Downing Street bash should not have happened, Boris Johnson told the Commons today that he had ‘believed implicitly that this was a work event’.
The PM insisted the event ‘could be said technically to fall within the guidance’.
The regulations from the time state that gatherings of more than two people are permitted in a ‘public place’ where ‘essential for work purposes’.
Guidance from the time adds that ‘workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace’.
But lawyers have noted that the Downing Street garden would not count as a ‘public place’.
The ‘reasonable excuses’ for leaving home include ‘to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living’.
It is not clear whether that would catch individuals who had travelled ‘for the purposes of work’, but decided not to return home immediately afterwards.
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister who has spent the pandemic interpreting complex coronavirus laws and explaining them to the public on social media, said the PM’s statement was ‘obviously lawyered’ and ‘very much about his personal liability.’
In a series of posts on Twitter, he said: ‘The Johnson apology was carefully worded and obviously lawyered. He said that he attended because he ‘believed implicitly that this was a work event’, that ‘with hindsight’ he should have sent everyone back inside, and ‘technically’ it could be said to fall within the guidance…
‘This was only what *he* thought the event was … So defence is a personal one only and leaves open the possibility the event was something else without him realising.
‘This is very much about his personal liability – he is implicitly denying he knew what the event was, had seen the email or had anything to do with it. Because here’s the key point: on the wording of email (‘bring your own booze’) this couldn’t technically have been a work event.’
While Mr Wagner suggested the PM may even say such an event would be considered ‘reasonably necessary for work’ to thank staff for their hard work during the pandemic, he doubted whether this would ‘hold weight’ given the Government guidance in place at the time discouraging workplace gatherings.
He added: ‘The ultimate point is that at the time if anyone had asked the Prime Minister or health minister whether it was lawful to have a social work gathering outdoors for 100 with alcohol and food they would have answered with a very hard ‘no’. This is … face saving.’
‘I’m fully supportive of this Prime Minister and I’m sure he will continue for many years to come,’ he said.
Miss Patel and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng are reported to have expressed their support in a Whatsapp group for Tory MPs.
Mr Javid said: ‘I completely understand why people feel let down. The PM did the right thing by apologising. Now we need to let the investigation complete its work. We have so much to get on with including rolling out boosters, testing and antivirals — so we can live with Covid.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio: ‘I think the Prime Minister was very contrite today, he apologised and he took full responsibility.’
Meanwhile, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told the broadcaster: ‘I think the Prime Minister has got things right again and again and again. But like us all, he accepts that during a two-and-a-half-year period, there will be things that with hindsight would have been done differently.’
Asked if the PM will resign if Ms Gray’s report found wrongdoing, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: ‘I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves here. We should take this a step at a time.’
And Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also backed the PM, as did Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
However, other Tories broke cover to slam the premier. York Outer MP Julian Sturdy said the claim the gathering at Downing Street was work-related ‘will not wash with the British public, who at the relevant time were making significant sacrifices’. Fellow Conservative William Wragg said Mr Johnson’s position was ‘untenable’.
Addressing the House this afternoon, Mr Johnson said he understood public ‘fury’ and ‘took responsibility’, but said he had ‘implicitly’ believed it was a work event – even though around 100 people were invited and urged to bring drinks.
‘I bitterly regret it. I wish we could have done things differently,’ he said.
Covid rules in England at the time made clear that all social gatherings of more than two people were banned, and people were only meant to leave home if they had a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as going to work. But there was no specific restriction on drinking alcohol in workplaces.
Labour’s leader Sir Keir Starmer responded that the PM should do the ‘decent thing and resign’, saying the public knows he is ‘lying through his teeth’.
‘The party is over, Prime Minister,’ he said.
After the clashes Mr Johnson toured the private tearoom at Parliament, with MPs saying he apologised for putting them through ‘cr**’ and conceding he was being ‘electrocuted by the anger of the public’.
A Red Wall MP told MailOnline: ‘He’s not changed any minds but no killer blow today. He’s taken on a lot of water and is listing but not quite sunk yet.’
It came after a long radio silence from the Tory front bench, with no minister sent out to do broadcast interviews this morning — in echoes of the situation before Christmas when Mr Javid refused to go out and defend the Government over ‘Partygate’.
The picture has been looking grim for Mr Johnson, with Tories up in arms following the emergence of a bombshell email from his top civil servant inviting 100 staff to the event.
Challenged on whether he would resign if she found he breached lockdown rules, Mr Johnson merely said he would respond ‘appropriately’.
Tory MPs studiously dodged asking questions about ‘Partygate’ during the session, instead going on topics including abolishing the BBC licence fee, bus services and Roman fossils.
Adam Wagner, a barrister who specialises in interpreting Covid regulations, said the PM’s statement was ‘obviously lawyered’ and ‘very much about his personal liability.’
On another day of intense political drama:
- Dominic Raab was forced to issue a ‘categorical’ denial that he attended the Downing Street party on May 20, 2020 or had been invited to it, after a Tory MP suggested he had been there;
- Keir Starmer faced Mr Johnson at PMQs after returning negative Covid tests and being released from his sixth period of isolation;
- A major Conservative donor issued an ultimatum to Mr Johnson to ‘sort it out or step aside … so that the Tories aren’t wiped out at the next election’;
- The PM has refused to sack his principal private secretary, whose bombshell email inviting 100 staff to the gathering sparked the crisis;
- His advisers were on alert over fears photographic evidence of the party could emerge;
- It was claimed that one senior official at the garden party event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones;
- The civil servant who runs Mr Johnson’s private office was facing claims of involvement in another boozy gathering that may have broken the rules.
The backing for Mr Johnson from the Tory benches seemed muted – and Keir Starmer raged that he should do the ‘decent thing and resign’, saying the public thinks he is ‘lying through his teeth’
At a stormy PMQs, Mr Johnson (left) said he wanted to ‘thank’ staff at the event in May 2020 but recognised that in ‘hindsight’ it should not have happened. But Keir Starmer, right, said he should resign
In a brutal attack in the House, Sir Keir told Mr Johnson: ‘The party is over, Prime Minister.’
The Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’, an email leaked to ITV News shows
Senior ministers started rallying around Mr Johnson today in what looked to be a coordinated effort to shore his position
Some Tory MPs also called for a pause in the wake of the PM’s partial apology
Veteran Tory MP Roger Gale – a regular critic of the PM – said after the PMQs exchanges that Mr Johnson was on ‘very thin ice’
Mr Johnson pictured leaving parliament after his difficult day over the Partygate allegations
Only socialise with ONE person outdoors and work meetings must be ‘essential’: The lockdown rules for England on May 20, 2020
Much of Britain was paralysed in a state of fear over coronavirus on May 20, 2020, with the country only two months into the first national lockdown.
About ten days earlier the Government had launched a ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ campaign, and the first vaccines would not be given for another seven months.
Indoor socialising with other households was strictly banned and only two people were allowed to meet outside in a public space such as a park while at least 6ft (2m) apart.
There was an exemption on gatherings where ‘essential for work purposes’ – but guidance said workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace’.
No10 has relied on the get-outs for work when responding to other claims about parties.
Two women at Wandsworth Common in London on May 20, 2020
Britons were regularly washing their hands to stay safe and many mourners had to watch funerals from home on live-streams, with official guidance saying the only people allowed to attend were ‘members of the deceased person’s household and close family members’.
Some mothers were giving birth without partners, shoppers were queuing outside supermarkets which limited numbers of shoppers and others had vital medical appointments put back as hospitals struggled to cope with Covid-19 patients.
As for working from home, Boris Johnson said on May 10, 2020 that people should ‘work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home’ and also advised them to avoid public transport to maintain social distancing.
Queues at a McDonald’s in Peterborough opening on May 20, 2020
On May 20, 2020, there were 2,700 daily positive cases while the seven-day average stood at 2,328 – a number that was falling after hitting an average of 4,774 one month earlier.
There were also 268 deaths within 28 days of a positive test on May 20, 2020, with a seven-day average of 255. This was also down, from a peak of 976 on April 10.
As for the global picture, experts at Johns Hopkins University said at least 323,286 people were known to have died from Covid-19 while at least 4,897,567 had been infected.
Police at the Peterborough McDonald’s at lunchtime on May 20, 2020
And then-US president Donald Trump said having more cases in the US than any other country was a ‘badge of honour’, because it meant the US had ‘more testing than anybody else’.
In Britain, non-essential shops were shut and hospitality businesses remained closed, although a handful of fast food chains began reopening for takeaway on the day.
Photographs from the day show police patrolling a park in London to look for rule-breakers, and a group of swimmers in Edinburgh being broken up by officers.
Thousands of people at Durdle Door beach in Dorset on May 20, 2020
May 20 also saw huge queues outside McDonald’s drive-thrus as 30 were reopened to the public from 11am.
The move led to police being called to a drive-thru branch of McDonald’s in Cambridgeshire after dozens of customers arrived when it opened.
Cars were queuing around the car park as customers rushed to get their hands on burgers, fries and milkshakes. There were similar scenes at a KFC in Coulby Newham, Middlesbrough.
A backlog of cars at a KFC outlet in Middlesbrough on May 20, 2020
Britons were also enjoying the warm weather at the time, with thousands of sun seekers photographed flocking to the iconic Durdle Door beach in Dorset on that day.
Dominic Cummings had already made his infamous 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle in County Durham to allegedly test his eyesight by this point, on April 12, although this was not revealed until newspaper reports about it on May 22.
One Tory aide watching the scenes in the chamber at lunchtime told MailOnline: ‘This is so very very excruciating.’
However, No10 will have been initially relieved that few of Mr Johnson’s own benches laid into him afterwards.
One of them was veteran Tory MP Roger Gale – a regular critic of the PM – who said Mr Johnson was a ‘dead man walking’ and on ‘very thin ice indeed’.
But this evening the criticism seemed to be ramping up again.
In a statement to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Sturdy said: ‘The fact is, that at a time when people were not allowed to attend the funeral of their loved ones or comfort their dying relatives, when fines were being issued for people meeting for a coffee in the park, Downing Street should not have been holding social events of any sort.
‘I share the frustration and disappointment of the many constituents who have contacted me over this, and assure them that I will make this known in holding the Prime Minister to account.’
Mr Wragg told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme it was a ‘tragedy’ that the situation had arisen but he could not see a way for the issues to ‘go away’.
‘A series of unforced errors are deeply damaging to the perception of the party.
‘The Prime Minister’s position is untenable.’
Mr Wragg said Tory MPs were ‘worn out of defending what is invariably indefensible’ and Mr Johnson should ‘do the right thing’ so the party can move on.
‘I’m afraid the inevitable conclusion is the only way to do that is with a change,’ he said.
Tory MP Neil Hudson said the PM’s apology was an ‘important step forward’ but ‘I will not defend the indefensible’ and there should be ‘serious consequences’ if rules were broken.
The Penrith and the Border MP said: ‘I was in the House of Commons Chamber today and I welcome that the PM came and admitted that he was at the May 20 2020 gathering and that he apologised for that.
‘That was an important step forward.
‘As I said yesterday, let’s see the result of the investigation by the Civil Service and potentially the Metropolitan Police and see what the findings tell us.
‘But I will not defend the indefensible and I fully share the country’s outrage and upset when people up and down the land were making huge personal and sometimes tragic sacrifices to do the right thing and obey the public health rules.
Another senior backbencher told MailOnline Mr Johnson was in a ‘holding pattern’ again, but added: ‘The trouble is with holding patterns is that they need fuel to be sustained.’
Further damaging allegations about parties in Downing Street are circulating today, and nerves are growing among Mr Johnson’s aides about the scale of the threat to his position. Snap polls have suggested that up to two-thirds of the public believe he should quit.
In a desperate effort at damage limitation, Mr Johnson told the packed Commons chamber: ‘I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months.
‘I know the anguish they have been through – unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.
‘I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
‘And though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.’
Mr Johnson argued that he believed the drinks bash was a ‘work event’ – even though an invite had been sent out to 100 staff telling them to ‘bring your own booze’.
‘No 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.
‘When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.’
In the closest thing to an apology so far, Mr Johnson said: ‘With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.
‘I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.
‘All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.’
Yesterday the premier faced a ferocious backlash from families who were prevented by lockdown rules from saying a proper farewell to loved ones.
And senior Tories warned that his survival in No 10 depends on addressing the claims and restoring trust.
Several said he will have to resign if he was at the ‘BYOB’ bash, while others suggested he could soon face a confidence vote.
Conservatives are split between those who believe the allegations are fatal to the PM and those who regard them as highly damaging.
Piling into Mr Johnson after his partial apology, Sir Keir said: ‘There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.
‘He’s finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘I appreciate the point that he’s making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening.
‘I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don’t think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.’
Sir Keir asked: ‘Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him?’
He said: ‘When the Prime Minister’s former health secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the Prime Minister said he was right to do so.
‘When the Prime Minister’s spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned and the Prime Minister accepted that resignation.
‘Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘That’s not what I’ve said and I understand the point that he makes, as I’ve said I regret the way things happened on the evening in question and I apologise, but if I may say to him, I do think it would be better if he waited until the full conclusion of the inquiry, until the full facts are brought before this House and he will have an opportunity to put his points again.’
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Commons Standards Committee, demanded to know why he was treating the public like fools.
‘The Prime Minister didn’t spot that he was at a social event. That’s the excuse isn’t it? Come off it,’ he said.
‘I mean how stupid does the Prime Minister think the British people are. The worst of it is he’s already managed to completely destroy Allegra Stratton’s career, he’s tarnished the reputation of Lord Geidt, and now he’s making fools of every single MP who cheered him earlier, every single one who goes out on the radio and television to defend this shower of shenanigans.
‘Would it not be absolutely despicable if, in the search for a scapegoat, some junior member of staff ends up losing their job, but he kept his?’
Mr Johnson shot back: ‘I don’t agree with him. I’ve come to this House to make amends, to explain what happened on May 20, and to apologise.
‘I really think that with all humility I must ask him to wait for the result of the inquiry, where he will have abundant opportunity to question me again and to make his party political points again. But, until then, I’m going to ignore his advice.’
Before the PMQs clashes, a Cabinet minister told The Times it was ‘not terminal yet’, but added: ‘We’re f***ed unless we resolve it. Everyone knows this thing happened; nobody is disputing that.
‘The row has moved on from whether the party took place to questions around denial and prevarication.’
Tory MP Christian Wakeford, who has a tiny majority in Bury South, said called for ‘openness, trust and honesty’ in politics, and ‘that starts from the top’.
‘How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t! It’s embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it’s already low.
‘We need openness, trust and honesty in our politics now more than ever and that starts from the top!’
But after PMQs there were glimmers of better
The PM was right to apologise today for not stopping the event in the garden of Number 10. People are understandably angry that this went ahead during the lockdown when people were separated from their own family and friends. The review must explain how and why this happened.
Allies of Dominic Cummings, the ex-aide who has waged a determined campaign against his former boss, have been gloating that Mr Johnson has just a 20 per cent chance of political survival.
Mr Johnson’s fate now likely rests in the hands of Ms Gray, who was drafted in to investigate alleged lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties after Britain’s top mandarin Simon Case was forced to stand down from the probe.
The mood in No10 has been described as ‘bleak’ as Mr Johnson’s inner circle struggled to decide on a strategy to counter the claims.
Anxious aides have been asking friends how they think the situation will play out.
The latest ‘partygate row’ exploded on Monday night when an email invite to the party from Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, was leaked.
The invite told staff that ‘it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather’ and to have ‘some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden’.
The event was held on May 20, 2020 – a time when the UK was still covered by stringent restrictions and people were banned from meeting up outside in groups of more than two.
Ministers and aides insisted they could not say whether Mr Johnson attended the event while the inquiry by Miss Gray was still ongoing.
But their bid to ignore questions failed to quell sulphurous anger within the Conservative Party and from the wider public.
Even members of Mr Johnson’s frontbench team privately plunged the knife, with one senior minister telling the Mail the Prime Minister should resign. The minister suggested Mr Johnson should avoid a ‘slow, painful exit’.
In the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis insisted the Prime Minister was ‘going nowhere’ in response to opposition calls for him to resign.
But a senior Tory said it was a ‘serious problem’ that ‘there wasn’t a single Government minister on the frontbench’ next to Mr Ellis as he responded to the urgent question.
‘If the Government cannot even get ministers to defend the indefensible, how can they expect us to?’ the source told the Mail.
Tory MP Christian Wakeford, who is defending a tiny majority in Bury, has added his voice to calls for ‘honesty’ from the PM
Left, a police officer knocks on the door of 10 Downing Street today. Keir Starmer (right) has been released from isolation and can take on Mr Johnson at PMQs
A teacher whose mother died alone five days before the No 10 drinks party branded Mr Johnson a ‘coward’ over his response to the scandal.
Valerie French, 68, was allowed just ten minutes with Marjorie Bourke, 98, before she was left to die from pneumonia and heart failure.
Meanwhile Phones4U founder John Caudwell, one of the Conservatives’ biggest individual donors at the previous election with £500,000, has joined in on the criticism, issuing an ultimatum to Johnson.
He told BBC News: ‘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.
‘While the rest of us were striving to follow the ever-changing rules – including myself, even when I deemed them to be excessive at best, nonsensical at worst – those who were setting those rules were, apparently freely and frequently, disregarding them.
‘Each one of these new revelations gives greater force to the accusation that areas of the government think it’s one rule for them, one rule for the rest of us. This is disastrous.’
Mr Johnson was branded a ‘serial liar’ by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, while Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said it would be ‘utterly despicable’ if he flouted rules. saying: ‘The Prime Minister can settle this right now, he can tell people: was he at the party or not?’
Last night former minister Johnny Mercer – now a vocal critic of Mr Johnson – issued a Twitter apology to constituents who had followed the rules, branding the situation ‘humiliating’.
The premier stood accused of going into ‘hiding’ after sending a junior minister to field an urgent question in the Commons yesterday.
In highly-charged scenes, MPs including the DUP’s Jim Shannon and Labour’s Afzal Khan spoke emotionally about their own bereavements during the pandemic and called for clarity on what had happened in No10.
Scotland Yard has confirmed that they are now ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ over reports of the drinks event.
The force is thought to be waiting to see if Ms Gray’s inquiry identifies rule-breaking before considering whether further action is needed.
A spokesman for the Met said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.’
Lawyers have suggested the premier being there might not have broken the law at the time, as it was technically his garden.
The raging ‘Partygate’ row was not even mentioned at Cabinet this morning, according to No10.
But bereaved families vented fury and accused Mr Johnson of ‘smirking’ rather than answering the allegations.
And Sir Keir said: ‘Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd. Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.
‘Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is on a visit to Devon rather than at PMQs, although aides insist the trip has been in the diary some time
The PM sent Paymaster General Michael Ellis to answer the urgent question from Labour yesterday – but the benches behind him were sparse
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (left) and Phones4U founder John Caudwell, a major Tory donor, have criticised Johnson
Behind the email: Top mandarin who runs Boris Johnson’s private office – for now
Martin Reynolds is the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary.
Questions had already been raised over his future after Dominic Cummings last week revealed he was behind the May 20, 2020 party.
But Downing Street denied reports he could be moved into a low profile senior diplomatic role, possibly at ambassador level.
Martin Reynolds (above), the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, is expected to be moved after the Cabinet Office concludes its investigation into whether rules were broken at a series of No 10 gatherings during Covid lockdowns
Mr Reynolds was pictured sitting with the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds at a ‘cheese and wine’ party held in the No10 garden on May 15, 2020.
Days later he sent the email to more than 100 people, inviting them out again for a cheeky midweek snifter.
Mr Cummings revealed the party on Friday in a blog, and claimed he warned colleagues at the time that the gathering broke lockdown rules and should not have gone ahead.
He said he wrote the warning in an email that could be discovered by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is investigating the allegations that parties were held.
Ms Gray – who has a fierce reputation in Whitehall – is set to deliver her findings as early as next week.
No10 has rejected reports that a senior figure advised some aides to ‘clean up’ their phones to remove information about potential lockdown breaches.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘We don’t recognise these claims.
‘Staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information.
‘As set out in the terms of reference, all staff are expected to fully co-operate with the investigation.’
One Conservative aide told MailOnline they personally would not have attended any such event at the time because they are ‘not stupid’.
Another said the situation ‘really isn’t looking good’. ‘He has to find a new scapegoat now. Reynolds alone won’t be enough.’
They also pointed to a wider problem of trust in the PM, with polls showing his personal ratings plunging.
A Tory insider told MailOnline yesterday that Ms Gray was seen as ‘evil incarnate’ by some in Whitehall but her duty would be to protect the premier.
‘Boris is going to protect himself. And people who have been loyal to him are soon going to see how that will never be reciprocated,’ they said.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Rayner said: ‘He doesn’t need an investigation, he doesn’t need a civil servant to tell him whether he attended this party or not.’
Asked whether she had confidence in Ms Gray’s inquiry, Ms Rayner added: ‘I have every confidence in Sue Gray to do her job and diligently do that, but I think this particular allegation does not need to wait for Sue Gray’s inquiry, which is a much wider one around the culture and what was happening at the time within the Government departments.
‘This is about the Prime Minister and his integrity, and whether he broke the law or not.
‘He can answer that question very simply, he doesn’t need to hide behind a civil servant or anyone else.’
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood called for Ms Johnson to ‘show some contrition’.
The Commons Defence Committee chairman told Sky News: ‘I strongly urge the Prime Minister to act now, to apologise for No 10’s poor judgment, to show some contrition and to be committed to appropriately respond to Sue Gray’s findings when they come out.
‘We can’t allow things to drift, that is not an option.’
Asked whether he would consider it the ‘end of the matter’ if Mr Johnson ‘comes clean’ over the party claims, the former minister added: ‘It would probably be for the Cabinet then to judge, and then also what he says and how he says it.
‘But we need to get ahead of the story. This is distracting us, it is taking airtime away.’
Snap Savanta ComRes research last night found that 66 per cent believe Mr Johnson should quit over Partygate, including 42 per cent of Conservative supporters.
YouGov had similar results, with 56 per cent saying the premier should fall on his sword and 27 per cent saying the opposite.
Whitehall ethics chief (and former pub landlady) who has previously ended the careers of ministers
Sue Gray, the civil servant probing all the alleged Downing Street parties, has previously ended the careers of high-flying politicians with investigations into wrongdoing.
In her former job as director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office she had enormous power and long experience in Westminster scandals, and developed a fearsome reputation among ministers and officials.
It saw her described as the most powerful civil servant you have never heard of.
But her life has not been completely standard mandarin. In the 1980s she was a pub landlady, running the Cove Bar near Newry in Northern Ireland with her husband Bill Conlan, a country and western singer.
Last year she told the BBC: ‘I loved it, loved it at the time, I’d never do it again.’
Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray is carrying out out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned.
Her inquiry into the so-called Plebgate affair in 2012 led to the resignation of minister Andrew Mitchell for verbally abusing police on duty in Downing Street.
And her investigation into Damian Green led to his forced resignation in 2017 after she discovered he had lied about pornography found on his Commons computer.
Ms Gray is a career civil servant who was drafted in from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry.
He was forced to step down after it emerged a December 2020 quiz was held in his own department that he was aware of and spoke at.
From 2018 to 2021 she served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance at the Northern Ireland Executive.
She returned to London to head up work on the Union in 2021. But she admitted last year she wuld not have come back to London if she had won the top Civil Service post in Northern Ireland.
She applied to run the service after the retirement of previous boss David Sterling, but the powersharing executive overlooked her and two other candidates, leaving the post unfilled.
She told the BBC at the time: ‘Why didn’t I get the job? I’m not sure I’ll ever quite know but I suspect, you know, I suspect people may have thought that I perhaps was too much of a challenger, or a disrupter.
‘I am both. Perhaps I would bring about… too much change.’
As well as the 66 per cent overall who wanted Mr Johnson to quit, Savanta ComRes found 42 per cent of Tories wanted him gone.
Some 62 per cent felt the event in the No 10 garden in May 2020 was a worse breach of trust than the initial Christmas party revelations.
The survey of 1,040 UK adults carried out found the proportion of those who felt Mr Johnson should resign had risen by 12 points since December. Among Tory voters there was a nine-point rise.
And 65 per cent thought Martin Reynolds, the PM’s principal private secretary who organised the garden party, should leave his role.
Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta ComRes, said: ‘That rope for Boris Johnson just got shorter as the latest allegations of further lockdown breaches in No.10 emerge and, crucially, this time Boris Johnson may lack plausible deniability due to the rumours circling that he and his wife attended the drinks event on 20 May while the rest of the country were restricted to meeting just one other person socially outdoors.
‘A 12-point increase in those saying he should resign compared to Christmas Partygate is significant, but ultimately it’s not the court of public opinion that Johnson will be tried in; it’s his own party.’
The separate YouGov poll found 56 per cent of people thought the PM should resign, while 27 per cent said he should stay in his role and 17 per cent did not know.
When a similar question about whether Mr Johnson should remain as leader of the Conservative Party was posed by YouGov on November 22, 48 per cent said he should stand down, 31% that he should stay, while 22 per cent answered that they did not know.
On May 20, 2020, the Met had told people they could have a picnic, exercise or do sport outside providing you are ‘on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person’.
Oliver Dowden, then the culture secretary, used a Downing Street press conference that day to remind the public they could ‘meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart’. It is understood Mr Dowden was not at the ‘BYOB’ bash.
A total of 807 fixed penalty notices for Covid-related offences were issued in the week of May 15 – 21 2020 across all forces, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Mr Reynolds’s email, which was leaked to ITV News, said: ‘Hi all, after what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!’
Downing Street said yesterday that the PM still has ‘full confidence’ in his PPS.
Sir David Normington, a former Whitehall permanent secretary and former First Civil Service Commissioner, suggested there should have been an external probe into the Partygate claims.
But he said Ms Gray was the ‘best person’ within Whitehall to look into the allegations.
‘She will be very aware that she has the reputation and possibly the careers of senior civil servants and possibly of the Prime Minister in her hands, and that is a very difficult position to be in, however fair and fearless and rigorous you are,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Calling the position Ms Gray finds herself in ‘very odd’, the former Home Office mandarin added: ‘She has in her previous role as head of propriety and ethics investigated Cabinet ministers, the behaviour of Cabinet ministers and so on, but I think it is fairly unprecedented for her to be investigating behaviour of the Prime Minister and, of course, of the Cabinet Secretary and the principal private secretary in No 10.
‘This is a step beyond, I think, anything she will have done in the past.’
Asked whether there should have been an external investigation into what went on in Downing Street, Sir David said it might have been ‘better to have someone from outside’, but added: ‘If we are going to have a civil servant doing it, Sue Gray is the best person to do it.
‘She has the confidence both of people who worked in previous governments, Labour governments and Conservative governments, so we are where we are.’
Mr Johnson’s authority has come under serious challenge among backbenchers and Cabinet colleagues in recent months, including over Partygate.
In December, the PM insisted that a photo of a gathering in the No10 garden where staff were seen eating cheese and drinking wine from May 15, 2020 showed people ‘working’.
Another photo, obtained by the Sunday Mirror, showed Mr Johnson hosting a Christmas quiz in Downing Street in winter 2020.
The PM has also come under criticism for imposing restrictions including facemarks and Covid passes in response to the Omicron variant – an issue that sparked Lord Frost’s dramatic resignation last month.
Barrister Adam Wagner, an expert on Covid regulations, said that on the basis of what was known, the gathering on May 20, 2020 was ‘unlikely to be legal for attendees’.
He added: ‘Being outside the home was illegal at the time unless – the only potentially relevant exception – it was for the need to work. Socially distanced drinks and bring your own booze don’t sound like work.’
However, he pointed to a ‘loophole of people not themselves being liable for having parties in their back gardens’ – which was subsequently closed later in the year. He suggested that as a result the only potential legal threat to the PM would be as an accessory to other people’s breach.
Labour MP Afzal Khan (left) told the Commons yesterdat: ‘My mum died of Covid in March 2020. She died alone in hospital while I sat in the car outside trying to be as close to her as I could. The DUP’s Jim Shannon (right) broke down as he said his mother-in-law died alone in 2020, and demanded full disclosure of what had happened in Downing Street
A snap poll found that 66 per cent of the public thought the PM should resign over the ‘Partygate’ furore
A Met Police tweet on May 20, 2020 laying down the rules that prevented more than two people from different households from meeting outside