Boris Johnson in ‘last chance saloon’ after new Downing Street party claims

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 12, 2022: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on January 12, 2022 in London, England. Boris Johnson is facing pressure over alleged gathering of No 10 staff in Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 at a time when strict Covid-19 lockdown measures were in place. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is in the “last chance saloon” with the Conservative party, according to reports. (Getty)

Boris Johnson is in the “last chance saloon” with the Conservative party after new claims of rule-breaking events at Downing Street emerged, according to a new report.

Number 10 was forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace after it was revealed two staff parties were reportedly held on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

Further claims emerged on Friday evening of regular “wine time Friday” gatherings in Downing Street while coronavirus rules were in place.

Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating the litany of claims about lockdown-busting parties in government, is said to have been “completely blindsided” by the latest revelations, The Times reported.

The newspaper said she was concerned Downing Street staff were withholding information about parties from her after it was also claimed on Friday staff gathered after work for two events on 16 April 2021, which started separately and later merged.

The Times added Johnson was in the “last chance saloon” with the Tory party amid declining poll numbers for the Conservatives.

Watch: Fresh No 10 rule-breaking claims emerge as PM puts fightback plan in place

The Mirror said the weekly “wine time Friday” events were a “long-standing Downing Street tradition”, including under previous administrations, but they continued after COVID restrictions were introduced prohibiting indoor mixing between households.

The newspaper said staff invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep their bottles of alcohol chilled, and that the Prime Minister was aware of the socialising.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.

“The findings will be made public in due course.”

Read more:

Labour rejects claims Keir Starmer a hypocrite after lockdown drinking picture resurfaces

Boris Johnson’s former adviser apologises for No10 party night before Prince Philip’s funeral

Sue Gray inquiry 'to find Downing Street lockdown parties were not criminal'

It comes as reports suggested Johnson was mounting a fightback after a tumultuous week, with The Times and Daily Telegraph both stating that he has been in contact with Lynton Crosby, the political strategist who helped get elected as mayor of London.

Johnson will look to move on from so-called partygate by lifting Plan B measures, such as the guidance to work from home, at the end of the month, the Telegraph reported.

The restrictions, which were designed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, are due to expire on 26 January, subject to a review.

Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove hinted that there could be sackings as part of a shake-up at the top of Government, but rejected a suggestion that Mr Johnson should be one of those to go.

The Cabinet minister, referencing the need for Gray’s inquiry to establish what went on, told ITV News: “If there is a specific need for disciplinary action or for responsibility to be taken, let’s do that, let’s do it quickly, but let’s also do it with all the facts in front of us.”

Johnson has continued to face criticism, including from those on his front bench, after admitting to attending a “bring your own booze” garden party in No 10 on 20 May 2020, which he insists he understood to be a “work event”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the Houses of Parliament after the weekly PMQ's on January 12, 2022 in London, England. During Prime Minister's Questions today Boris Johnson told the House that he joined staff in the garden of 10 Downing Street for 25 minutes shortly after 6pm on May 20, 2020, during Coronavirus lockdown. He said that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event” and returned to work in No 10 afterwards. Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross, called for Johnson to resign. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves the Houses of Parliament after the weekly PMQ's on Wednesday. (Getty)

Sir Keir Starmer used a speech on Saturday to heap more pressure on the under-fire Prime Minister.

The Labour leader, in a speech at the Fabian Society conference in London, said the “partygate scandal” has worsened the public’s mental health.

As part of his vision for the NHS, he pledged a Labour administration would install a mental health care facility for young people in every community and provide specialist support in schools.

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer: Partygate has added to country’s mental health

Taking questions about the policy after his speech, Sir Keir said: “I think, by the way, the scandal of partygate, for want of a better word… what’s happened in recent weeks, where it has become obvious that while the vast majority of the British public were obeying the laws the Government made, the Government and the Prime Minister were partying in Downing Street.

“I think that has added to mental health stress because so many people are now asking themselves, ‘Why on earth did I do that then, while they were doing what they were doing?’.

“So I think that, before the pandemic, we had mental health issues which have got worse during the pandemic in greater ways than we’ve really understood, particularly in young people.

“And I think the last few weeks in relation to partygate has just made the situation worse.”

Sir Keir made his speech with his party enjoying a surge in the polls, with one survey recording that Labour have risen to their largest predicted vote share in almost a decade.

A Savanta ComRes survey, its first voting intention poll since the partygate allegations broke, put Labour on 42 points, up by five, with Boris Johnson’s Tories on 32, down by one.

Watch: How the world could be better after COVID