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Boris Johnson has come under increased pressure to resign over his attendance of the 'bring your own booze' (BYOB) event allegedly held in Downing Street during the UK's first national lockdown.
The prime minister has refused to say whether he attended the Number 10 social gathering in May 2020, but has been told his position is 'untenable' if the investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray concludes he was there.
The government usually puts forward a minister to speak to major broadcasters each morning, but today those slots were left glaringly empty on Wednesday as Johnson prepared to defend himself at prime minister's questions (PMQs)
Criticism has begun to pour in from MPs, with some coming from his own benches - sparking speculation that a major revolt could be underway.
On Tuesday, health minister Edward Argar was given the unenviable task of defending his boss, but said it was"not appropriate" to comment on the investigation which has been launched into the alleged party.
A picture was published by ITV News on Monday showing an invite to a BYOB party in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
It is understood that Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s private secretary, sent the email to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to the evening gathering.
Johnson and his wife Carrie are alleged to have attended along with about 40 other members of staff, and the Metropolitan Police have said they are in contact with the Cabinet Office.
Watch: Boris Johnson declines to answer if he attended Downing Street party
During a visit to Uxbridge on Monday morning, Johnson declined to answer a question on whether he attended a party.
But despite the furore, the PM did not appear in front of the media on Tuesday.
Crucially, Downing Street officials have not denied he attended the party.
Johnson has said it is a matter for Gray, the senior civil servant who is investigating a series of reported parties in Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall in the course of 2020, to determine what happened.
The PM will be forced to face the allegations head on this afternoon as he attends PMQs.
PMQs could prove to be one of the landmark moments of his career, as he is expected to answer one key question - did he attend the alleged party in Downing Street on May 20?
It would come after Johnson has repeatedly claimed he followed every rule his party brought into force to tackle the spread of COVID-19.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Wednesday morning that Johnson’s position would be “untenable” if it is proved that he had attended parties in contravention to lockdown rules.
Rayner told BBC Breakfast: “He can clear this up very quickly and he has refused to do so, so far, and he has really undermined the office of prime minister by letting this carry on and continue because he refuses to tell the British public what they deserve to hear, and that’s whether or not he broke the lockdown rules and whether he was at this party or not.”
One of the most cutting bits of criticism has come from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who called for Johnson to resign, calling him a "threat to the health of the nation".
Davey told BBC Breakfast: “Boris Johnson is now incapable of leading our country through this public health crisis – I actually think he is a threat to the health of the nation, because no-one will do anything he says because he has now shown to have been deceitful, so Boris Johnson must now resign.”
The former cabinet minister continued: “He said to parliament and to the country before Christmas when he was apologising that he didn’t know about the parties, and now we know he was at at least one of those parties.
“So, he has clearly lied, he has broken the ministerial code, he has broken the law, he’s misled parliament – any prime minister in the past would resign for just one of those offences.
“These are grievous, grievous errors. So if he was at the party, and it looks very clear that he was, then he must now go, he must now resign.”
He added: “If he has a shred of decency left in him, I think he must resign today.”
Johnson has been warned by some senior Tories that his position as PM lies in the balance, and his performance at PMQs will determine what path his future Number 10 will take.
Watch: Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross said he would not "in any way support" Mr Johnson if he attended the party
One Cabinet member told The Times: "It's not terminal yet — there's still room for humility and a heartfelt apology. We're f***ed unless we resolve it. Everyone knows this thing happened; nobody is disputing that.
"The row has moved on from whether the party took place to questions around denial and prevarication. PMQs will be agonising. We f***ed up. It doesn't have to be terminal if he's prepared to take his medicine. But it's unquestionably done harm."
Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross also warned that Johnson could not continue in his current position if it is found he misled Parliament.
On Tuesday night, Tory MP Nigel Mills warned Mr Johnson's position will be “untenable” if he knowingly attended the party.
Mills told BBC News: “It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that.
“If the prime minister knowingly attended a party I can’t see how he can survive having accepted resignations for far less.
“He accepted the resignation of his spokesperson (Allegra Stratton) for not attending party but joking about it at a time of much lighter restrictions. I just think that’s untenable.”
He added: “I don’t think we need an inquiry to work out whether the prime minister was there. He knows whether he was there or not. Just come out and say what happened. If he was there he better try a hugely fulsome apology and see if the country will buy it but I’m not sure they will.”
Christian Wakeford, Tory MP for Bury South, tweeted on Wednesday: "How do you defend the indefensible? You can't! It's embarrassing and what's worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it's already low. We need openness, trust and honesty in our politics and that starts from the top!"
An urgent question was granted to Rayner in the Commons on Tuesday, which Johnson did not attend.
Instead, he sent the paymaster general, Michael Ellis, to respond to questions from MPs instead.
Watch: DUP MP Jim Shannon breaks down talking about death of mother-in-law during lockdown
Among those who spoke was DUP MP Jim Shannon, who broke down during a debate on the latest alleged Downing Street party as he spoke about the death of his mother-in-law.
Shannon started by asking whether the results of an investigation would be made public and struggled to finish his question.
"In Northern Ireland, we reached a milestone of 3000 deaths due to COVID just last week - 3000 people who followed the rules... including my mother in law who died alone," he told cabinet office minister, Michael Ellis, before choking back tears.
As the MP tried to gather himself, other MPs could be heard giving words of support, with one saying: "Keep going, Jim".