Boris Johnson must ensure “all the dirty linen” is “washed at once” in relation to allegations of Downing Street parties, a Tory former minister has urged.
The Prime Minister also faced calls to resign, while his whereabouts were scrutinised after he opted against responding to Labour’s urgent Commons question about a gathering in the Downing Street garden on May 20 2020.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis was sent out to respond and was relentlessly heckled by opposition MPs, who outnumbered those on the Conservative benches and asked the vast majority of the questions during the session.
Mr Ellis confirmed that the May 20 “bring your own booze” event, to which more than 100 employees were invited, according to a leaked email, is being investigated.
But he noted that publication of the findings of the Whitehall party inquiry, led by senior official Sue Gray, could be delayed due to the increasing number of allegations to be considered.
Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope asked: “Why can’t all the dirty linen be washed at once? Why are we getting this drip, drip feed of parties?
“Surely the Civil Service must have known that there was a party on May 20 and they should have referred it already to the inquiry?”
Mr Ellis said: “We have a number of dates that have come out at different times and that will, presumably, have an effect of delaying matters.”
Earlier, shouts of “Where is he?” in relation to Mr Johnson could be heard, with Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle saying: “It’s quite obvious it’s not the Prime Minister so we don’t need to keep asking that question.”
And he said of Mr Ellis: “He’s got the tough job as it is, don’t make it harder for him.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson’s absence “speaks volumes”.
“It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements,” she said.
“The public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can’t hide.”
Ms Rayner added: “There’s no need for an investigation into the simple central question today: did the Prime Minister attend the event in the Downing Street garden on the 20 May 2020? It won’t wash to blame this on a few junior civil servants – the Prime Minister sets the tone.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “This is the most serious of matters because this is a Prime Minister who has been accused of breaking a law that he himself set.
“It could not be more serious.”
Mr Blackford added: “This is a Prime Minister that has lost his moral authority.
“He doesn’t deserve the respect and the trust of the people of these islands.
“If he won’t do the decent thing and recognise that he ought to resign, I say to the minister and I say to the Conservative backbenchers that they are going to have to do what the Prime Minister has failed to do and force him from office – and do it now.”
Labour former minister Dame Angela Eagle joked: “Perhaps it would be faster if Sue Gray were to investigate the days there weren’t parties.”
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) was overcome with emotion as he told the Commons: “In Northern Ireland we reached the milestone of 3,000 deaths due to Covid just last week, including my mother-in-law, who died alone.”
Mr Shannon struggled to go on with his question before sitting back down.
Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, spoke of marking a “solemn Eid” at the time of the alleged Downing Street parties – as his “lovely mum” died of Covid in March 2020.
He said: “She died alone in hospital while I sat in the car outside, trying to be as close to her as I could.”
Labour’s Richard Burgon (Leeds East) said: “The unavoidable truth is that the public believe the Prime Minister is a liar who treats them with contempt, there’s a crisis of public confidence.
“Isn’t the only way to restore public confidence for the Prime Minister for once to act in the public interest and resign now?”
Mr Ellis replied: “I don’t think the public believe what (he) believes.”