'I'm absolutely pumped': Behind the scenes of Boris Johnson's 24-hour rollercoaster

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·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·6-min read
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©UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
Wednesday became one of the hardest days of Boris Johnson's premiership yet after Sue Gray's investigation was made public. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Boris Johnson faced down yet another make-or-break day and seems to have emerged intact for now. Yahoo News UK's political correspondent, Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, reports on a remarkable 24 hours in Parliament.

It's late in the day - about 6.30pm - when Boris Johnson, fresh from a battering in the House of Commons, faces his own backbenchers.

For the prime minister, it is a critical moment in trying to quell the growing anger that has surfaced among some in his own party after Sue Gray's damning report revealed a culture of boozy excess, serious leadership failure, and at least 12 apparent lockdown parties now subjected to a police investigation - four of which involve the PM.

Outside the committee room, it is quiet - but soon, the silence is broken by rounds of laughter, cheers, and banging on tables.

"He acknowledged error," says one MP lingering in the corridor. It's a clear signal that Boris Johnson may not be in the dying days of his premiership just yet.

Tentatively, he says the "mood" among the party is that it has to pull together. He worries the party could become toxic; like it did under Margaret Thatcher.

Jacob Rees-Mogg - one of the PM's staunchest allies - exits early and also defends Johnson. He "nearly died" from COVID-19, Rees-Mogg points out.

Jessica Taylor
Former prime minister Theresa May looked on at Boris Johnson with distain as he addressed the House of Commons following the Partygate report. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

He also insists Johnson "struck the right tone" at the meeting. "He said how sorry he was, he took responsibility, and he went on to [share] the changes he's making... what more could you want?" Not long after, another MP - Paul Bristow - echoes Rees-Mogg.

"Not a single person - not a single person - in there said 'stand down'," he says - adding: "The vast, vast majority of colleagues in that room realise that the prime minister is the right person to lead us". He concedes it had been a "difficult day", but leaves "absolutely pumped".

"I understand why so many people feel so concerned... I wasn't able to say goodbye to my dad the way I wanted [during lockdown]," adding "[but] ultimately, we've got a mission to deliver."

"Can he be trusted at his word?" he is asked. "I believe in the prime minister," he replies, walking off.

And that's the million pound question, which Brits across the country will be asking themselves it in comings days and weeks.

Because, while Johnson has survived this battle, the war is not over - with multiple police investigations including some 300 photographs) and the full Gray report yet to come.

Jessical Taylor
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer lambasted Boris Johnson telling the House of Commons the prime minister was "a man without shame". (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Earlier in the day, the outlook was much more pessimistic for a man who - lest we forget - stormed to a thumping election victory just over two years ago.

Facing MPs in a raucous House of Commons at 3.30pm, Johnson bounded in to opposition jeers. Flanked by an animated Dominic Raab and subdued Rishi Sunak, the PM launched into his apology.

"I want to say sorry," he begins, to groans from the Labour benches and silence from his own. Priti Patel scowls at Labour, telling them to "shush". "I am sorry for the things we simply did not get right and sorry for the way this matter has been handled," he goes on.

Read more: Sue Gray report: Police investigating 'gathering' inside Boris Johnson's private flat

But Johnson soon moves on, claiming the UK has had the "fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe", and had "the fastest economic growth of the G7". There are tentative nods in agreement from some Tory MPs. The cabinet ministers are a mixed bag; Jacob Rees-Mogg and Raab are the most animated, Sunak and Liz Truss more reserved.

Soon, Sir Keir Starmer is up and you can hear a pin drop. A handful of Tory frontbenchers and backbenchers jeer as he calls for the prime minister to resign - but broadly speaking this is the most significant inroads the Labour leader has made throughout the scandal.

Jessica Taylor
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Ian Blackford marched out of the House of Commons as Speaker Lindsay Hoyle told him to leave for refusing to withdraw his claims that Boris Johnson "misled" parliament. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

"He is a man without shame," says Starmer. "Just as he has done throughout the life, he has damaged everyone and everything around him..." Johnson scowls, shaking his head.

Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House, is forced to pause proceedings after Tory MPs jeer with anger as Starmer continues. Picking out one particularly rowdy MP, Hoyle says: "The honourable member for South Ribble [Katherine Fletcher] is my neighbour. I expect better from my neighbours."

Johnson responds bombastically - including falsely accusing Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Saville. He lists what he sees as his achievements on Brexit and vaccines. Labour groan, but it is not the performance of a defeated leader.

JT
At many points during the prime minister's appearance in the House of Commons responding to the Sue Gray report into Partygate the frontbenches appeared subdued. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Read more: 'Am I a fool?' Tory MP whose grandmother died during lockdown tears into Boris Johnson

There are some signs, however, that indicate the tenuous grip Johnson has on his own MPs. Step forward former prime minister Theresa May, who launches an unexpectedly sharp criticism of her successor. "Either my right honourable friend had not read the rules, or did not understand what they meant—and others around him—or they did not think the rules applied to No. 10," she scathes Johnson. "Which was it?"

Tory benches are rattled, Labour's animated.

The loudest the chamber gets is when SNP leader Ian Blackford rises. "No ifs, no buts; he has wilfully misled Parliament," he says, to howls from Tories. Hoyle orders Blackford to withdraw his comments, he replies, wondering instead if the Prime Minister "inadvertently" misled the House.

Senior Tories Nadine Dorries and Suella Braverman are enraged, bouncing in their seats. Dorries shouts "Come on!". Exasperated, Hoyle gives Blackford more opportunities to withdraw the comments. Blackford replies: "It is not my fault if the Prime Minister cannot be trusted to tell the truth".

Read more: No 10 'vetoed bereavement bubbles' weeks before party on eve of Prince Philip funeral

Blackford departs before he is kicked out by the Speaker for accusing someone else in the House of lying.

The rest of the debate sees opposition MPs call for Johnson's resignation.

A handful of Conservatives also speak out - Andrew Mitchell and Aaron Bell among them - but Johnson also receives words of support and it becomes clear the prime minister is going to fight to live another days.

However, there are many more twists and turns to come and the reality is that the PM remains on a final written warning.

Watch: Sue Gray report: PM hoped to buy himself some time with Commons grilling - but events are in danger of spiralling out of control

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