Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Boris Johnson dealt fresh blow as fifth new MP calls on him to quit after Gray report


oris Johnson’s government was hit with a fresh blow on Friday as a fifth new MP called on him to resign after the Sue Gray report.

Sir Bob Neill, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, urged the Prime Minister to stand down on Friday afternoon.

He said he had sent a letter of no confidence in the PM to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.

In recent days, Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, David Simmonds, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, Billericay MP John Baron, and York MP Julian Sturdy have issued statements calling on Mr Johnson to quit after the Gray report on Wednesday into the partygate scandal.

Sir Bob, chairman of the Commons justice committee, said: “My years as a lawyer have taught me not to come to conclusions without the fullest possible evidence.

“I have been equally clear that we cannot have one rule for those working in government and a different one for everyone else. Those of us who set the rules have a particular responsibility to stick to them ourselves.”

He added: “Sue Gray’s report has highlighted a pattern of wholly unacceptable behaviour, spread over a number of months, by some working in 10 Downing Street, including breaking rules that caused real pain and hardship for many, and which the Government, and we as parliamentarians, were telling others to live by.

“I have listened carefully to the explanations the Prime Minister has given, in Parliament and elsewhere, and, regrettably, do not find his assertions to be credible.

“That is why, with a heavy heart, I submitted a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday afternoon.”

He stressed: “Trust is the most important commodity in politics, but these events have undermined trust in not just the office of the Prime Minister, but in the political process itself. To rebuild that trust and move on, a change in leadership is necessary.”

Sir Bob’s intervention came just hours after the resignation of a Government aide who slammed the “toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10”.

Eastleigh MP Paul Holmes quit as parliamentary private secretary to Home Secretary Priti Patel.

In a statement condemning the partygate scandal, he said: “It is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the Government and the Conservative Party has been created by these events, something that pains me personally as someone who always tries to represent Eastleigh and its people with integrity.

“It is distressing to me that this work on your behalf has been tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10.”

He added: “Over the last few weeks this distress has led me to conclude that I want to continue to focus solely on my efforts in being your Member of Parliament and the campaigns that are important to you. That is why I have now resigned from my governmental responsibilities as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office.”

Separately, Alicia Kearns, a Tory MP elected during Mr Johnson’s landslide election win in 2019, said she had concluded, in the aftermath of Ms Gray’s report, that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament when he said Covid rules had been upheld in Downing Street.

Ms Kearns, in a Facebook post, said she continued not to hold confidence in the Prime Minister, a position first asserted in January.

The Rutland and Melton MP said: “It is wrong that families were banned from saying goodbye to their dying loved ones, whilst the Prime Minister was complicit in the holding of many goodbye parties for his staff, which we now know displayed a complete disregard for restrictions and were complete with vomiting, fighting and bullying.

“I can only conclude that the Prime Minister’s account of events to Parliament was misleading.”

Ms Kearns did not say whether her lack of confidence in Mr Johnson had led to her submitting a letter of no confidence.

The Prime Minister was already facing the threat of a growing revolt on Friday with six more Tory MPs said to have privately sent in letters of no confidence in him since the publication of the Sue Gray report.

But Mr Johnson said during a visit to Stockton-on-Tees, where he met fiber cable laying trainees, that he is confident he has enough support within his party to stay in post.

Asked about the Gray report, he batted away the question, saying: “I think I gave some pretty vintage and exhaustive answers on all that subject the other day in the House of Commons and then in a subsequent press conference.”

He sought to further deflect questions when pressed on why he tolerated the culture that saw staff drink so much they were sick, became involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff.

“If you look at the answers in the House of Commons over more than two hours, I think you’ll be able to see I answered that very, very extensively,” Mr Johnson said.

However, more MPs were considering whether to continue supporting him, or not.

The Prime Minister’s anti-corruption champion John Penrose MP said on Thursday that he would “sleep on it” when asked whether he would write to Sir Graham.

If he gets 54 letters from Conservative MPs it would trigger a confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.

After the damning report into the partygate scandal, Mr Penrose told LBC Radio that there was a “great deal of concern about whether or not [the PM] has been telling the truth in Parliament”.

It was not clear this morning whether Mr Penrose had sent a letter.

But many Conservative MPs are still backing Mr Johnson. James Grundy, elected Tory MP for Leigh in 2019, told the Standard: “Concern about the cost of living crisis is the major concern for my constituents. I don’t believe it’s time to be blowing up the Government.”

Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley said: “I don’t think developments in the last week have made a significant difference. He is Prime Minister, people should not expect him to stop being Prime Minister.”

The Cabinet have rallied around Mr Johnson with even Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris taking the unusual step for this post to publicly state his support.

He tweeted earlier this week: “The Sue Gray report has been published and the PM has apologised. There are many issues our country faces and Parliament needs to look outwards and address those. Our PM is a man who has consistently got the big calls right and will continue to do so.”

Many MPs at a meeting of the 1922 committee on Wednesday afternoon were also supportive of the Prime Minister.

Rebels believe they can “easily” get 54 names to trigger a confidence vote in Mr Johnson but are not confident of getting 100.

So, if there was a vote he may win it and the crucial issue then would be whether he retained enough support within the parliamentary party to continue as PM.

Ms Gray’s report into partygate probed 16 gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall, including eight attended by the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson was only fined for attending one gathering, his birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, but Ms Gray criticized the culture and leadership in No10 over which he presided.

The senior civil servant’s report found that a large number of people attended events and breached Covid guidelines and staff felt unable to raise concerns about behaviour. Despite social gatherings being banned, there was excessive alcohol consumption at some events, at one a person was sick and there was a fight.

Some staff tried to conceal that the parties were taking place, including by leaving by the backdoor of Downing Street. Mr Johnson has denied misleading Parliament, insisting he was unaware of rule-breaking in No10. But is facing an inquiry by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he knowingly misled the Commons.

Detectives investigated 12 of the events in Ms Gray’s report and issued 126 fines for Covid breaches to 83 people. Met chiefs have defended the basis of how they decide who should be fined, including whether people attended gatherings in a “work-related” context.


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