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David Simmonds, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner in London, on Thursday called for the Prime Minister to “step down” so a new leader could be appointed to take forward the “important work of the Government”.
Veteran MP John Baron said the Prime Minister’s denials in Parliament of no rule-breaking in No10 were “simply not credible” and so he “no longer enjoys my support”.
The Billericay MP and former army officer said the Gray report’s revelations about partygate had “painted a shameful pattern of misbehaviour”.
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond warned his colleagues that the party may not be able to win the next General Election, expected in 2024, with Mr Johnson at the helm.
He said: “The Sue Gray Report was published yesterday. Its conclusions were damning for the Prime Minister, the Civil Service, and were critical of the activities and culture that existed in Number 10 whilst the rest of the country followed the Covid guidelines.
“I have said consistently throughout I cannot and will not defend the indefensible. I am struck by a number of my colleagues who were really concerned that it’s almost impossible for the PM to say I want to move on, as we cannot move on without regaining public trust and I am not sure that’s possible in the current situation.
“Since 9 December I have been critical of the Prime Minister’s behaviour and the culture that existed in Number 10. All I can do as a backbencher is speak out and submit a letter.”
Their statements showed backbench support for Mr Johnson ebbing away but many Tory MPs are still supporting the Prime Minister.
Rebels say they could “easily” get 54 MPs to send in letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, which would trigger a confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
However, they are not confident yet that at least 100 would vote against the Prime Minister in such a showdown so while he may be wounded he could survive such a revolt.
Many other Conservative MPs voiced their support for the Prime Minister at a meeting in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.
Peter Bone MP has backed him as an honest politician, who has delivered on policies such as Brexit.
International Trade minister Ranil Jayawardena said: “The Prime Minister has apologised for the mistakes that were made.
“I accept Boris Johnson’s apology and back him to grow our economy and take Britain forward.”
As more MPs were mulling whether to continue their support for Mr Johnson, Cabinet minister Steve Barclay took to the airwaves to defend him attending so many of the parties in No10, including leaving dos, often for just a short while.
Mr Barclay, Downing Street’s chief of staff, said the Prime Minister felt he could say goodbye to staff who were leaving his office as “they were already in the building”.
He also told Sky News: “He is focused on our response to Ukraine. He is focused on the huge challenge economically for families, for your viewers, in terms of the cost of energy, the cost of food, he is getting on with the job.
“He got the big calls right, including during Covid. The fastest rollout (of vaccines).
“He has been getting the big calls right but he accepted, in terms of some of these incidents, that there were lessons to be learned.”
However, the response of Tory MPs to the Gray report was still not clear.
One Tory rebel said: “We could easily get 54.
“But we want to be confident we could get 100.”
But a Red Wall Conservative said there was “not a chance” of leadership vote after the Gray report.
Her report into lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall investigated 16 separate events, eight of which were attended by the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson was only fined for attending one gathering, his birthday party in the cabinet room in June 2020, but Ms Gray criticised the culture and leadership in No10 over which he presided.
The senior civil servant’s report found that a large number of people attended events and breached Covid guidelines and staff felt unable to raise concerns about the behaviour.
Despite social gatherings being banned, there was excessive alcohol consumption at some events and at one a person was sick and there was a fight.
Some staff attempt to hide the parties, including by leaving by the backdoor of Downing Street.
Mr Simmonds said: “I listened to what the Prime Minister had to say at Prime Ministers Questions, his statement and the 1922 Committee yesterday following the publication of the Sue Gray report.
“Having reflected on what he said, and the views of constituents and my Conservative Association, 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 stressed that a “bedrock principle of our constitution is that we can trust the responses we receive in Parliament to be truthful and accurate”.
He added: “The Sue Gray report and the Metropolitan Police investigations paint a shameful pattern of misbehaviour during the pandemic as the rest of us kept to the Covid regulations. Those responsible for setting the rules have a special duty to adhere to them.
“However, for me the most serious charge against the Prime Minister is that of knowingly misleading Parliament. Given the scale of rule-breaking in No 10, I can not accept that the Prime Minister was unaware. Therefore, his repeated assurances in Parliament that there was no rule-breaking is simply not credible.”
Mr Johnson has denied misleading Parliament, insisting he was unaware of rule-breaking in No10.
However, he is facing an inquiry by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he knowingly misled the Commons.
Detectives investigated 12 of the events in Ms Gray’s report and issued 126 fines for Covid breaches to 83 people.