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Boris Johnson’s hopes of drawing a line under the partygate row suffered a blow after a string of Tory MPs called for him to quit in the wake of Sue Gray’s report.
Four Tories have gone public since the publication of the damning report which laid bare the extent of raucous behaviour in No 10 at a time when millions were forced to cut off contact with loved ones during coronavirus lockdowns.
Former minister Stephen Hammond and fellow MPs David Simmonds and John Baron spoke out on Thursday, following Julian Sturdy who demanded Mr Johnson’s exit on Wednesday.
Mr Hammond said he “cannot and will not defend the indefensible” and indicated he had sent a letter of no confidence to the Tory backbench 1922 Committee.
“All I can do as a backbencher is speak out and submit a letter,” he said.
Ms Gray’s report detailed events at which officials sang karaoke, drank so much they were sick, became involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff.
Under Conservative Party rules, there must be a vote on the Prime Minister’s future if 54 MPs write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, saying they have lost confidence in their leader.
A total of 20 Tory MPs have so far publicly called for his resignation, with many critics of Mr Johnson holding back due to the war in Ukraine.
Sir Graham keeps the number of letters he has received a closely guarded secret, so it could be higher than the public declarations of discontent.
Mr Simmonds, the MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner – his constituency is next to Mr Johnson’s – said: “It is clear that while the Government and our policies enjoy the confidence of the public, the Prime Minister does not.
“Accordingly, it is time for him to step down so that new leadership can take forward the important work of the Government in ensuring that our people and country prosper.”
Mr Baron accused Mr Johnson of misleading Parliament, and said he “no longer enjoys my support.”
“Given the scale of rule-breaking in No 10, I can not accept that the Prime Minister was unaware,” he said.
“Therefore, his repeated assurances in Parliament that there was no rule-breaking is simply not credible.
“Having always said I would consider all the available evidence before deciding, I’m afraid the Prime Minister no longer enjoys my support – I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.”
His comments echoed Mr Sturdy, who said in the hours following the Gray report’s publication on Wednesday: “I am now unable to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and feel it is in the public interest for him to resign.”
The publication of Ms Gray’s report followed the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman investigation into parties in No 10 and Whitehall.
The force handed out 126 fines for rule breaches in No 10 and Whitehall, with the Prime Minister receiving a single fixed-penalty notice for his birthday party in June 2020.
Acting Met Police chief Sir Stephen House defended the way the inquiry was conducted following criticism of the way Mr Johnson avoided further penalties for parties he attended – particularly after photos were released showing him raising a toast with a glass of wine at a leaving do for aide Lee Cain.
Sir Stephen told the London Assembly: “I accept that many of the photographs we are seeing look bad and Sue Gray’s report has dealt with that.
“We deal with the law, not what looks bad. And just because there is alcohol present, can I just remind people that the Covid regulations are about breaching Covid regulations, they’re not about whether there’s drink there or not.”
He insisted Scotland Yard had “not shied away from issuing a fixed-penalty notice where we thought it was deserved”.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson had “set the bar so low as Prime Minister”.
She told Loose Women on ITV: “I think one of the problems now is that he’s been proven to be a liar and somebody who is incompetent in office, certainly at a time when we had the pandemic.
“I think it does create a problem when you’ve set the bar so low as the Prime Minister of a country that you can literally break the law in office, and then it’s like, ‘oh, well, sorry, I didn’t know about it. Everybody else is to blame’.”