Boris Johnson vows not to resign as report on Downing Street parties awaited
British prime minister Boris Johnson during the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliamentary Recording/EPA
British prime minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he had no intention of resigning over a series of lockdown-breaking gatherings at his Downing Street office and residence, pledging to get on with the job.
Answering questions in parliament, Johnson was accused by opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer of changing his story over the gatherings and misleading parliament, an offence which the prime minister agreed should trigger a resignation.
Asked if he would step down, Mr Johnson replied: “No.”
“I don’t deny it, and for all sorts of reasons, many people may want me out of the way, but the reason why he [Starmer] wants me out of the way is because he knows this government can be trusted to deliver,” he said to cheers from Conservatives.
“We’ve taken the tough decisions, we’ve got the big calls right and we’re and in particular I am getting on with the job.”
Mr Starmer had earlier said to Johnson: “The reality is we now have the shameful spectacle of a prime minister of the United Kingdom being subject to a police investigation, unable to lead the country, incapable of doing the right thing, and every day his Cabinet fail to speak out they become more and more complicit.”
The British prime minister was appearing in the House of Commons with his future in the balance as Sue Gray is expected to submit the findings of her inquiry into parties held in No 10 and Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdowns.
The senior civil servant’s inquiry had been expected to be finalised this week with widespread expectation it will be made public on Wednesday or Thursday.
An indication of how damaging the report could be for the government came when Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick announced a police inquiry was being carried out, based in part on evidence obtained by the Gray investigation.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss said: “It’s an independent report, it’s a matter for Sue Gray when she sends that report, when she’s completed her work.”
The prime minister is expected to give a Commons statement once No 10 has had time to review Ms Gray’s findings.
Ms Truss – viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Mr Johnson – said: “He’s admitted that mistakes were made and I 100 per cent support him, and want him to continue as prime minister.”
She told Sky News there could be “security issues” which mean parts of the Gray report are “problematic to publish”. But she stressed: “We have been absolutely clear that we will publish the findings of the report.”
The report is expected to be sent to No 10 on Wednesday, but if it is late in the day the prime minister may wait until Thursday before making a Commons statement and publishing it.
Sources close to the Gray inquiry expect it to be published in full, although ultimately it is a matter for Mr Johnson to decide.
The steady stream of allegations over alleged breaches of lockdown rules have undermined the prime minister, and many of his critics are waiting for Ms Gray’s report before deciding whether or not to submit formal letters saying they have no confidence in his leadership.
If Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, receives 54 letters – 15 per cent of Tory MPs – a vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership would be held.
Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the Commons education committee, said Mr Johnson needs to “reset” his administration. “I don’t need Sue Gray or the police to tell me or my constituents of Harlow that what’s gone on has been pretty awful,” he told Times Radio. “We all feel let down and disappointed.”
In what is likely to be read as a warning to wavering rebels, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested there would have to be a general election if Mr Johnson was ousted.
He told BBC’s Newsnight: “It is my view that we have moved, for better or worse, to essentially a presidential system and that therefore the mandate is personal rather than entirely party, and that any prime minister would be very well advised to seek a fresh mandate.”
Ms Truss said this was “complete hypothetical speculation”, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I believe the prime minister should continue in office, I think he is doing a great job.”
Ms Gray’s report is examining a series of gatherings, including some attended by Mr Johnson.
Sky News reported officials have handed over to investigators photographs of parties in Downing Street which include images of the prime minister and show people close together with wine bottles.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, writing for Politico, said: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson was at a party. A party that broke the rules he set. The Prime Minister then lied about it. The Prime Minister needs to resign. It really is as simple as that.
“We don’t need the Sue Gray report to know that Boris Johnson needs to go. Sue Gray will simply lay out the facts of what seems be a very clear culture of total disregard for propriety and rules in Downing Street – the culture comes only from the person in charge.”– Agencies