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Boris Johnson should quit over the “Partygate” scandal, four top Tories were saying on Thursday as the Prime Minister was fighting for his political life.
Former Home Office minister Caroline Nokes, now chairwoman of the Commons Equalities Committee, told ITV’S Peston Show that Mr Johnson should go as he had turned into a “liability” and was “dragging the party down now”.
She said: “There are a lot of MPs in Parliament who owe their seats to him and there are also a lot of MPs like me who recognise that the Prime Minister, when it came to winning that election in 2019, did a fantastic job.
“But now, regretfully, he looks like a liability and I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a General Election. And it’s up to the party to decide which way around that’s going to be. I know my thoughts are that he’s damaging us now, he’s damaging the entire Conservative brand with an unwillingness to accept the strictures that other people have lived by.”
Watch: Londoners call on UK's Johnson to quit over lockdown 'party'
Asked if it was better for the Tory party if he goes now, she added: “Absolutely, and the Conservative Party is a very long-standing, very respectable party that has worked very hard over very many years to win successive General Elections. It’s bigger than one man. But that one man, you could see in the polls....is dragging the party down now.”
Tory MPs watched in stony-silence as Mr Johnson issued an apology to the nation at Wednesday’s PMQs for spending 25 minutes at the gathering on May 20, 2020, in the garden of No10 where tables were reportedly laid out with sausage rolls, crisps, other picnic food and drinks.
The leader of the Conservatives in Scotland Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, said he spoke to Mr Johnson Wednesday afternoon and explained why he was calling for him resign.
Mr Ross said: “I don’t want to be in this position. I am in the position now where I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.
“I spoke to the Prime Minister this afternoon, I set out my reasons and I explained to him my position.”
Mr Ross, a critic of the Prime Minister, did not want to disclose details of the conversation but was of the view that Mr Johnson “believes that he didn’t do anything wrong”.
He added: “He has put up a defence for his position.
“But I also have to look at the information I have in front to me, and to stick with the position that I made quite clear yesterday that if he did attend that party, he couldn’t continue as Prime Minister.”
William Wragg MP, Tory chairman of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, was the second senior Tory to speak out.
He told BBC radio: “A series of enforced errors on matters of integrity are deeply damaging to the perception of my colleagues and the party and that is deeply unfair to them.
“Those colleagues are saying to one another and off the record….I sadly think that the Prime Minister’s position is untenable.
Asked if he would like him to resign, he added: “That would be preferable because it’s difficult enough for colleagues.
“They are frankly worn out of defending what is invariably indefensible.
“For their sakes at least the Prime Minister should see that and do the right thing.”
Former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Baroness Davidson later tweeted a report of Mr Ross’ call for Mr Johnson to go.
She added: “A tough call to make. But the right one.”
But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab stressed Mr Johnson had given a "clear account" of his actions and that the "right way to handle this" was to wait for the report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the string of alleged Downing Street parties.
He said: "If there are questions, issues, that are raised by this - that’s precisely why Sue Gray is there to conduct the investigation and make sure all the answers can be provided.”
He added: "I’m fully supportive of this Prime Minister, and I’m sure he will continue for many years to come.”
Health Secretary Sajid 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.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Prime Minister was “right to apologise” and said he supports Boris Johnson’s “request for patience” as Ms Gray conducts her investigation.
In a tweet, Mr Sunak said: “I’ve been on a visit all day today continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation.
“The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her inquiry.”
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg also spoke out in defence of the Prime Minister.
He told Times Radio: “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.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted: “The Prime Minister is delivering for Britain - from Brexit to the booster programme to economic growth. I stand behind the Prime Minister 100% as he takes our country forward.”
Watch: Boris Johnson's apology was 'a load of old waffle and I don't believe it', says Somerset care home resident
Johnson branded a ‘man without shame’
Mr Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions that at the time he “believed implicitly that this was a work event” as meetings had been taking place in the garden to reduce the risk of getting Covid.
But he told MPs that “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside”. You can read the apology in full here.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, though, accused him of “lying through his teeth” and branded him a “man without shame”.
He added: “The party’s over, Prime Minister. The only question is will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign?”
Mr Johnson repeatedly stressed MPs should wait for the report by top civil servant Sue Gray into a string of alleged parties in Downing Street, appearing to hint that the May 20 gathering may have “technically” been within the rules.
However, his premiership looked under unprecedented threat, with a growing number of Tory MPs voicing their anger and dismay over the “Partygate” scandal.
Many of them will wait to see the response from their constituents, including how many emails and letters they send in on the issue, before deciding the level of support they will offer the PM.
His fate hangs partly on the report by Ms Gray and whether the Metropolitan Police launches an inquiry into the reported parties during lockdown or when London was in Tier 3 restrictions.
He also faces local elections in May, including in London, when the country is expected to be in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.