- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A government minister has launched the latest defence of an under-fire Boris Johnson, claiming the prime minister would not have been aware of a party going on in the No 10 garden and would likely have been "grabbed from his office" by staff and taken there.
Armed forces minister James Heappey said that reasons given for the PM to attend the "bring your own booze" gathering would "sound absurd" to those who don't understand "the way the prime minister's day is put together".
Heappey said the PM, who he also described as utterly reliant, will "bounce" from meeting to meeting throughout the day, relying on his staff to keep him fully informed about what is happening.
Watch: Minister says it's "unsurprising" some Tory MPs are "feeling under pressure" from constituents
He added: "And then somebody comes and grabs you and takes you down to the Downing Street garden and it that 30 seconds that you go down the stairs you get a pre-brief on what is going on".
Johnson is facing growing calls to resign and there are some reports that the threshold of 54 MPs calling for a vote of no confidence could be passed as soon as Wednesday.
He will face the Commons later at prime minister's questions as he seeks to quell rebellion from within his own ranks.
The mutiny has been dubbed a "pork pie plot", because one of the organisers is Alicia Kearns, new MP for Rutland and Melton, home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie.
It consists of a number of Red Wall MPs, who only entered the Commons in the 2019 election after snatching traditionally Labour-held seats.
On Tuesday, a humbled Johnson made his first media appearance since issuing a grovelling apology for attending the party in May 2020 – at a time when the rest of the country were banned from meeting in groups larger than two.
In it, he reiterated his claim that he thought the gathering – in which people were invited to attend to "make the most of the lovely weather" – was a "work event".
Repeated questions have been asked about how the prime minister didn't realise that the party went against the COVID lockdown rules which he himself set.
Speaking to Times Radio, Heappey - a former parliamentary private secretary of the PM who is therefore familiar with the inner workings of No 10 - suggested the PM had been let down by his staff who should have "had his back".
He added: “If you are going through a day in which you are having calls with world leaders, meetings on national security, meetings on 10 different policy areas, all of those meetings come and go in the blink of an eye, you rely utterly on the team around you to make sure that you are properly briefed and to have your back around what it is that they put in your diary.
“As unedifying as I think it is to point to those who perhaps don’t have a platform with which to respond, the reality is that those who work around the Prime Minister need to have his back.”
Johnson has been accused by Dominic Cummings of lying to parliament over whether he knew the gathering was against the rules, and claimed the PM was warned in advance that staff were holding a drinks party in breach of COVID laws.
But Johnson denied those allegations, telling broadcasters that "nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules".
Watch: What happens if Boris Johnson resigns?