As Boris Johnson survives yet another tumultuous day, his real problems lie ahead

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·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
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Boris Johnson has refused to resign following the publication of Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties during lockdown. (UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)
Boris Johnson has refused to resign following the publication of Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties during lockdown. (UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)

Wednesday proved yet another challenging day for Boris Johnson after shocking details about law-breaking in Downing Street emerged following the publication of Sue Gray's long-gestating report.

Altercations between civil servants, vomiting from too much alcohol, karaoke machines, and even the breaking of the prime minister's son's swing – the picture painted of behind the scenes at Number 10 is a raucous one.

As Johnson entered the House of Commons for prime minister's questions (PMQs) at lunchtime, many Tories shook their head and stared at the floor as some of their colleagues cheered.

Read more: The majority of voters say that Boris Johnson should resign

On the front benches, cabinet ministers appeared subdued, while former prime minister Theresa May looked on from behind with disdain.

Immediately after PMQs, Johnson began his address to MPs on Gray's report into what has long since become known as Partygate.

Despite starting by saying he was genuinely sorry, Johnson swiftly went on the defensive – insisting he didn't know such events broke the rules, defending his law-breaking staff, and even cracking a joke about Keir Starmer being "Beer Korma" in reference to Durham Police's investigation into the Labour leader.

Number 10 Downing Street, London. Scotland Yard has launched an investigation into a
Gray's report into Partygate revealed that there was an altercation in Downing Street at a rule-breaking gathering during lockdown. (PA)

However, while Johnson enjoyed loud support from his MPs when he mentioned Beergate, he didn't for much else.

The most dramatic intervention came from senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who was booed as he told his colleagues they will lose the next election if Johnson stays.

"But a question I humbly put to my colleagues is: are you willing day-in and day-out to defend this behaviour publicly?"

"I’m being heckled by my own people," he added. "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."

Read more: Partygate: The texts and emails that show No 10 knew they were flouting lockdown rules

Christian Wakeford, who defected from the Conservatives to Labour in January over Partygate and the government's response to the cost-of-living crisis, quipped: "I would like to know: how many of my former colleagues does he think will be joining me on these benches after today?”

And in an ominous sign for Johnson's premiership, within half an hour of him answering questions the Tory benches behind him ran sparse – with less than two dozen remaining out of nearly 360 MPs.

Senior Tory MP Mark Harper, who has already called for Johnson to resign, stood at the edge of the chamber for over an hour listening intently to MPs calling for the PM to quit.

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Labour MP Christian Wakeford, who defected from the Conservatives due to Partygate and the cost-of-living crisis, how many more Tory MPs would be joining him. (UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)
PM
The government's front bench was largely subdued during PMQs. (UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor)

Shortly after he left the chamber, cabinet ministers including chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss Tweeted their support for the prime minister.

After giving an awkward press conference taking questions from journalists, Johnson then headed to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers. The committee has the power to remove the prime minister if 54 letters of no confidence are submitted to it and the sitting PM subsequently loses a no-confidence vote.

Ordinarily, there are booms of MPs hitting tables and cheering when Johnson enters – but, ominously, the table banging was quiet.

Read more: Here are the nine Partygate photos released in the Sue Gray report

Senior Tory MPs including Steve Baker and Mark Harper left the committee early; both have already submitted letters of no-confidence.

And midway through the meeting, Julian Sturdy, Tory MP for York Outer, became the latest backbencher to call for Johnson's resignation, posting on social media it was in “the public interest”.

But some MPs leaving the committee early came to Johnson's defence. Conservative Jonathan Gullis, when asked by Yahoo News UK on how he'd rate Johnson's leadership, replied he's "not going to get into running scores", before adding that the prime minister is a "10 out of 10" for his constituency of Stoke-on-Trent.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he walks between buildings at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Johnson described his apology as 'humble' in the Commons, before referring to Keir Starmer as 'Beer Korma'. (Reuters)
 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the 10 Downing Street to take questions in parliament, in London, Britain May 25, 2022. REUTERS/John Sibley
The PM continued to insist that he did not know parties in Number 10 broke the rules. (Reuters)

"It was very consistent with what he said in the House... that's very important," another Tory MP, former cabinet minister Robert Buckland, told Yahoo News UK.

Assessing the PM's leadership since the report emerged, Buckland gave him "a seven [or] eight out of 10".

Staunch Johnson advocate Tory MP Michael Fabricant, when asked if Johnson was an honest man, replied: "I do think he's an honest man. Absolutely."

Read more: Sue Gray report reveals shocking details of drunken behaviour inside No 10

As the day comes to a close, it’s clear that while Johnson’s defenders are vocal, the rumbling discontent continues in his party – and 59% of Brits say he should resign.

Elsewhere, the escalating cost-of-living crisis means the pressure on his leadership is all-but-certain to continue.

With a growing number of experts warning of a recession and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) saying Brits are facing the biggest drop in living standards, the prime minister is on thin ice.

But it seems, for now, the Teflon Tory may live to leave Downing Street for another day.

Watch: Boris Johnson 'as surprised and disappointed' by Partygate revelations as anyone

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