Boris Johnson has been warned he will have to quit if it is shown he has lied in denying he said “let the bodies pile high” – after repeating the denial in the Commons chamber.
Asked if he had uttered the explosive remark – in raging about another lockdown last October – the prime minister told MPs: “No.”
Keir Starmer told him that any minister misleading Parliament was “expected to offer their resignation”, saying: “Somebody here isn’t telling the truth.”
In a torrid prime minister’s questions for the prime minister – minutes after a formal investigation was launched into his flat makeover – he was accused of being “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, accused him of “repeatedly lying to the British public over the past week”, asking: “Are you a liar prime minister?”
Several witnesses have reported hearing the explosive comment, after a lockdown meeting in No 10, although none – so far – have been named.
The prime minister, in agreeing the second lockdown, is said to have yelled: “No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, in a separate room.
The allegation, made in the Daily Mail, appears to be one of numerous shots fired in a vitriolic war of words with Dominic Cummings, his ousted chief aide.
Sir Keir said: “It was reported this week, including in the Daily Mail, the BBC and ITV – backed up by numerous sources – that, at the end of October, the prime minister said he would rather have, and I quote, ‘bodies pile high’ than implement another lockdown.
“Can the prime minister tell the House categorically yes or no, did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?”
After replying “no”, Mr Johnson added: “I think if he is going to repeat allegations like that he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations, and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those things.”
He added: “Lockdowns are miserable, lockdowns are appalling things to have to do, but I have to say that I believe we had absolutely no choice.”
Later, a visibly angry and rattled prime minister accused his critics of resorting to “anything they can talk about except the vaccine rollout”.
He repeatedly insisted the public was not interested in the various sleaze controversies and would find the spotlight on them “bizarre”.
After turning to the flat refurbishment controversy, the Labour leader branded his opponent “Major Sleaze”, alleging: “Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access - and who is at the heart of it?”
Mr Johnson replied: “He should know that I have paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally,” – while repeatedly refusing to say who stumped up the cash initially.