‘Real damp squib’ Tory MPs rally behind Boris after Sue Gray damning partygate report


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Mr Johnson’s premiership has been under immense pressure following the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman investigation into partygate. The Prime Minister and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak were among 83 individuals who received fixed penalty notices during the investigation as Whitehall racked up a total of 126 fines for breaches of COVID-19 regulations. However, Mr Johnson looked set to face another challenge when the inquiry conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray was released earlier today.

In her highly critical report, Ms Gray lamented the “failures of leadership and judgement” regarding the drinking culture inside Number 10.

She added: “Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of Government.”

The report included photos of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor at Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday gathering in June 2020.

Mr Johnson responded to the inquiry in the Commons and at a press conference from Downing Street. 

During his statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister apologised to the country for attending a “short lunchtime gathering” and added that he had taken “full responsibility for everything that took place” on his watch. 

However, despite repeated calls from opposition MPs for the Prime Minister to quit, Tory MPs appear to have concluded that Mr Johnson is here to stay.

One Conservative MP, who previously claimed the Gray report would be “critical for many colleagues”, told Express.co.uk he does not believe Conservative MPs will move to topple the Prime Minister.

The MP said: “My view is that [the] Sue Gray report is not a disaster for the Prime Minister. 

“Indeed [it] acknowledges [the] core defects in Number 10 are being fixed.

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“[I] sense no mood by the party to move against the Prime Minister.”

Red Wall Tory MP Jacob Young also told Express.co.uk: “It was quite right that a thorough, independent, investigation was carried out to look into this matter and I would like to thank Sue Gray for her work.

“The publication of the report, however, doesn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know to this point.

“So now, with both Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police having concluded their work, it’s time to move on and focus on the serious matters affecting the United Kingdom.”

And a former Conservative MP indicated the Prime Minister might have managed to see off the partygate threat from inside Conservative ranks.

Ben Howlett, who lost the remain-voting seat of Bath to the Liberal Democrats in 2017, told Express.co.uk: “From what I could see, obviously there was a lot of very despondent faces and a very little amount of support from the backbenches other than a sombre amount of cheering from the ultra-loyalists, but still I haven’t heard anybody say that as a result of this I am now going to get my pen out and write a further letter to the 1922 Committee.

“I think pretty much, that’s it, the Met Police aren’t going to be re-opening the investigation, so I think things will move on.

“Tomorrow’s headlines are clearly going to be absolutely atrocious for the Prime Minister, which will have a massive in respect to the electorate, but from a parliamentary party point of view, I don’t see there being a critical threshold of enough MPs writing letters to the 1922 Committee to call a vote of no confidence.”

Mr Howlett, who worked on Theresa May’s campaign team in the 2016 Tory leadership contest, also suggested the Prime Minister could put himself in a “dangerous” position later today when he addresses Conservative colleagues.

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The ex-MP told Express.co.uk: “He’s got to play it as an ‘I’m really sorry, I am absolutely taking this seriously’, no jokes, nothing like that.

“He’s got to play it safe and if he does that then I think he will be fine.”

Several Cabinet Ministers have taken to social media to voice their support for the Prime Minister.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has long been regarded as a potential candidate to succeed Mr Johnson as Tory Party leader, said: “The Prime Minister has apologised and taken responsibility for the mistakes that have been made.

“I back him 100 percent – we now need to drive our economy forward post-Covid and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine.”

Michael Gove, who challenged Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership in both 2016 and 2019, also rallied behind the Conservative leader.

The Brexit-backing Surrey Heath MP said: “Sue Gray’s report documents unacceptable behaviour that has caused understandable anger.

“The Prime Minister has apologised. 

“Lessons have had to be learned and changes made.

“Now, we need to focus on the economic challenges ahead. And get behind the Prime Minister.”

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David Campbell-Bannerman, a former UKIP and Conservative MEP who supported Mr Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016 and 2019, also backed the Prime Minister following his statement to the House of Commons.

He told Express.co.uk: “It was a real damp squib and the photos show the kind of enforced work drinks many of us have sought to avoid.

“This was not Ibiza party time.”

When asked whether he thought Tory MPs would move to oust the Prime Minister, Mr Campbell-Bannerman added: “No, I don’t think they have anything like the material they needed to justify a Tory Harakiri – and mercifully so!

“Time to move on to the cost of living and fast.”

However, not all Tory MPs have been quite as supportive.

Mr Johnson previously saw off a potential challenge to his leadership after the so-called ‘Pork Pie Plotters’ failed to get enough letters of no confidence submitted to the 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

But a number of Tory MPs who had previously been somewhat supportive of Mr Johnson have publicly called on the Prime Minister to quit.

Former Minister Tobias Ellwood told the Commons earlier today that Mr Johnson does not have his support. 

The Bournemouth East MP, who did not support Mr Johnson at any stage in the 2019 leadership contest, said: “This is a damning report about the absence of leadership, focus and discipline in Number 10 – the one place where you expect to find those attributes in abundance.

“I’ve made my point and my position very clear to the Prime Minister: he does not have my support.”

Mr Ellwood added: “Can we win the general election on this current trajectory? 

“I’m being heckled by my own people.

“If we cannot work out what we’re going to do, then the broad church of the Conservative Party will lose the next general election.

“But my question to the Prime Minister is very clear, on the question of leadership: can he think of any other prime minister who’d have allowed such a culture of indiscipline to take place under their watch and if it did would they not have resigned?”

The Prime Minister replied: “I think the answer is overwhelmingly and emphatically yes, we are going to go on and win the next general election because we’re going to get on with the job.”

Sir Robert Buckland, who Mr Johnson sacked as Justice Secretary in the Prime Minister’s September reshuffle, even asked his former boss: “Has he on any occasion come to this house in response to specific questions about specific events and deliberately lied to us?”

Responding to the Swindon South MP, the Prime Minister said: “I believed that what I was doing was attending work events, and, with the exception of the event in the Cabinet Room, that is a view that has been vindicated by the investigation.”


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