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No 10 vows reform of ‘drinking culture’ as backlash grows

Johnson has already been questioned over ‘Partygate’

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Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to resign as prime minister. Photo: Reuters TV

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to resign as prime minister. Photo: Reuters TV

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to resign as prime minister. Photo: Reuters TV

Boris Johnson has already been questioned in the probe over ‘Partygate’ allegations, Whitehall sources say, as new signs of a Tory grassroots backlash emerged.

The British prime minister is understood to have shared what he knows with Sue Gray, the civil servant overseeing the probe, ahead of publication of the report as early as this week.

Downing Street is already planning its response to the findings, with the promise to overhaul a “drinking culture” in No 10 and the departure of senior figures expected.

With Mr Johnson facing the biggest political crisis of his premiership, more evidence of an angry reaction among Tory voters to allegations of lockdown-breaking parties emerged.

A survey conducted by the Grassroots Conservatives group found that around four in 10 of its supporters want Mr Johnson to resign now, according to Ed Costelloe, the group’s chairman.

Tory MPs claimed that “enormous anger” had been conveyed by their local Tory associations over the weekend, with one saying 5pc of its party members had quit.

Yesterday, it emerged that one Tory MP’s constituency office had been daubed with the words “lies, lies, lies”. Others say emails of complaint have flooded into inboxes.

Meanwhile, the number of Conservative MPs publicly calling on Mr Johnson to stand down over the allegations is increasing, with former minister Tim Loughton becoming the sixth.

Robert Syms, the Tory MP for Poole, is considering joining them, saying: “Like my colleague Tim Loughton, I am considering whether or not I ought to put in a letter.”

He added: “I’ve had emails from what I would call Christian, decent, honest, honourable types of Tory voters, who say they feel embarrassed about voting Conservative with Boris Johnson.”

Amid the backdrop of discontent and uncertainty, Mr Johnson is plotting his fightback with his most trusted political allies who have rallied to his side.

One Tory MP said they had written a letter of no confidence that would be submitted to the 1922 Committee once Ms Gray’s report was done and claimed six other MPs would do likewise.

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In a sign of the suspicion sweeping the parliamentary party, it is claimed Tory whips have been monitoring the approach to the 1922 chairman’s office to see who submits letters.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor and likely future leadership contender, is one of a dozen Cabinet ministers yet to pledge support in TV or radio interviews since Mr Johnson’s apology last Wednesday.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, toured the broadcast studios yesterday indicating that the Prime Minister would overhaul the “culture” in No 10 once Ms Gray publishes her report.

“I can assure you the prime minister is both very contrite and deeply apologetic for what happened,” Mr Dowden told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

“But, more importantly, he is determined to make sure that this can’t be allowed to happen and that we address the underlying culture in Downing Street.”

Johnson loyalists were working the phones throughout the weekend to shore up wavering Tory MPs in what is set to be a critical week for his leadership. He will go public on Wednesday after days isolating because a family member caught Covid, facing Keir Starmer and the mood of his own MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions.

A move to protect the prime minister, dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog”, is under way that is likely to see senior
No 10 figures forced out later this month.

A string of policy announcements, including lifting Covid restrictions, sending in the military to tackle the migrant boat crisis and freezing the BBC licence fee, are coming.

Allies are upbeat about his chances of political survival after ring-rounds of Tory MPs despite the resignation calls, insisting Mr Johnson is determined to make it through.


 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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