‘It looks like checkmate’ for Boris Johnson over partygate, senior MP warns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Rutherford Diagnostic Centre in Taunton, Somerset. Picture date: Thursday January 20, 2022.
Boris Johnson is clinging on as PM amid a gorwing rebellion in his own party over allegations of Downing Street parties. (PA Images)

Boris Johnson faces "checkmate" over allegations of multiple parties in Downing Street during lockdown, a senior Tory MP has warned.

The prime minister is clinging on to his job amid multiple damaging claims about lockdown breaches in No 10 on his watch, with the government now accused of trying to blackmail rebel MPs.

Brexiteer Steve Baker, a prominent lockdown sceptic, told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: “It’s a sorry situation we’re in. I’m appalled we’ve reached this position.

"We didn’t make Boris Johnson prime minister for his meticulous grasp of tedious rules but this is appalling and the public are rightly furious.”

Baker, who was a key figure in the plot to bring down Theresa May, becomes one of many Tory MPs to publicly criticise the PM over the "partygate" scandal.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12, 2021: Conservative Party MP Steve Baker speaks to the media outside the BBC Broadcasting House in central London on December 12, 2021 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
MP Steve Baker said the allegations against Boris Johnson were “appalling and the public are rightly furious”.(Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Seven have gone public about submitting letters of no confidence in Johnson, and one MP, Christian Wakeford, defected to Labour on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, the health secretary said that if a prime minister has been shown to have broken the law, then they should leave office.

Sajid Javid told Sky News "there is no exception" to following the ministerial code, after Johnson admitted attending a party in Downing Street in May 2020, when COVID laws forbid social gatherings.

Javid said Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating reports of parties in Whitehall during lockdown, should be given the “time and space” to complete her inquiry.

Watch: Health secretary Sajid Javid admits if Boris Johnson has broken the law, he should go

Read more: The basic question Boris Johnson refused to answer over Partygate - ‘This is just embarrassing’

“The ministerial code is very clear. If any minister from the prime minister down breaks the law, of course they shouldn’t continue to serve as a minister,” he said.

“What I have just said is a general rule that applies to everyone. There is no exception to that rule.”

Another senior Tory MP later accused the government of "blackmailing" Tory MPs over the Partygate scandal.

William Wragg MP urged MPs to report any attempt to blackmail them to the Metropolitan Police.

The embattled PM has continued to claim he believed the now-infamous gathering he attended to be a "work event", and insisted had he been warned the party was not within the rules, he wouldn't have allowed it to go ahead.

He also dismissed claims staff had warned him that the event was against the rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday January 19, 2022.
Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street for PMQs. (PA)

A visibly downtrodden Johnson cut a sombre figure in a bruising media interview on Tuesday, in stark contrast to his upbeat appearance at prime minister's questions on Wednesday.

Johnson has so far resisted calls to resign – including one from senior Tory MP David Davis, who stood in the Commons on Wednesday and told Johnson: "In the name of God, go."

Javid added said he believes Johnson is secure in his job despite the calls to resign and potential damage the incident has done to the party.

Sue Gray is handling the inquiry into the growing numbers of reports (PA/Gov)
Javid said Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating reports of parties in Whitehall during lockdown, should be given the 'time and space' to complete her inquiry. (PA/Gov)

Asked on BBC Breakfast if the prime minister was “safe in his job”, Javid said: “Yes, I think he is.

“At the same time, people are right to be angered and pained about what they have seen and they have heard. I share that anger and pain.

“I think it is right that there is a proper investigation going on that will establish the facts and that the prime minister will come back to parliament and properly respond.”

Javid denied that the announcement on Wednesday of the lifting of Plan B COVID restrictions in England was about “saving the skin” of the prime minister.

“People would be wrong to think that,” he said, adding it was the view of the government’s scientific advisers that the peak of the latest wave has been reached.