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The Prime Minister continued to support senior official Martin Reynolds, who invited colleagues to the gathering in May 2020 during England’s first lockdown, and has refused to say whether he attended it himself.
Downing Street said Mr Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, “continues in his role” after ITV news published the email he sent to colleagues encouraging them to bring alcohol to the event to “make the most of the lovely weather”.
Asked whether Mr Johnson still had full confidence in one of his most senior aides, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he did.
Two opinion polls suggested people believe Mr Johnson should resign, while senior opposition politicians also called for him to quit.
There was mounting anger within the Tory ranks over the latest scandal involving the Prime Minister, whose future could now hinge on the findings of an investigation into allegations of rule-breaking parties.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the Prime Minister should come clean about whether or not he was at the event.
Saying he felt “furious” when he heard reports of the party, he told the PA news agency: “I’m angry. I think that reflects what people across Scotland and the UK are feeling right now.”
Mr Ross restated his view that the Prime Minister could not continue if he is found to have misled Parliament about the so-called ‘partygate’ rows.
The leaked email, which came to light on Monday, was an invitation to “socially distanced drinks” following an “incredibly busy period” as the Government dealt with the initial wave of Covid-19.
Mr Johnson will face a difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday but dodged scrutiny in the Commons on Tuesday, sending paymaster general Michael Ellis to face an urgent question instead.
The Prime Minister has refused to say whether he attended the gathering along with his now wife Carrie – although it has been widely reported he was there – insisting it was a matter for the investigation being led by senior official Sue Gray into a series of alleged rule-breaking parties held in Whitehall and Downing Street during the pandemic.
But Mr Ross said: “Nothing would undermine what Sue Gray is trying to do, for the Prime Minister to come out and answer a very simple question.
“Was he at the party or not?”
🚨NEW SNAP POLL🚨
Should Boris Johnson resign over BYOB partygate?
Should not 24%
Should not 45%
Should not 10%
1,040 UK adults, 11th Jan 2022 pic.twitter.com/dU1UXoJIGo
— Savanta ComRes (@SavantaComRes) January 11, 2022
Two separate polls suggested the public was turning against Mr Johnson.
A Savanta ComRes study found 66% of British adults thought he should quit as Prime Minister, with 24% saying he should stay.
And a YouGov survey for Sky News found 56% believed he should go, with 27% saying he should remain.
In the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Johnson should resign, claiming he was “not being truthful” about his knowledge of the various parties.
Responding to opposition calls for Mr Johnson to resign in the Commons, Mr Ellis told MPs the Prime Minister was “going nowhere”, adding that he “retains the confidence of the people of this country and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decades”.
Mr Ellis said the Gray inquiry “will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action taken”.
The investigation could be paused if evidence emerges of a criminal offence and the Metropolitan Police decides to launch an inquiry.
People in England were allowed to meet only one person from another household, providing they were at least two metres apart and outside.
People were not permitted to visit the homes of friends and family – unless it was for care and medical reasons, or to take a child to another household with whom parental responsibilities were shared.
Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants remained closed.
Scotland Yard said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the latest allegation.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the Prime Minister’s absence from the urgent question “speaks volumes” and “the public have already drawn their own conclusions”.
The Tory benches were sparsely populated, in a possible indication of a lack of support for the Prime Minister’s position on the issue.
— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) January 11, 2022
Robbie Moore, Conservative MP for Keighley, told the Telegraph & Argus: “The email from Martin Reynolds infuriates me.”
Mr Moore said he was “”deeply angered by the thought of any illegal gatherings, parties or social events which took place at Downing Street whilst the rest of the country was in lockdown and following the rules”.
Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.”
Hannah Brady, of the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the “socially distanced drinks”, wrote to the Prime Minister calling for him to say whether he attended the event.
She said: “It is a matter of common decency and respect for not only us or the British people, but the office you hold as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to tell us whether you attended this flagrant breach of the Government’s own rules.”
I’m guessing the prime minister will have received legal advice that as soon as the government admit any breaches of “the rules“ they are putting themselves in legal jeopardy and the police will have little option but to investigate
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) January 11, 2022
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner, who interprets coronavirus regulations for the public on Twitter, said: “I’m guessing the Prime Minister will have received legal advice that as soon as the Government admit any breaches of ‘the rules’ they are putting themselves in legal jeopardy and the police will have little option but to investigate.”