Downing Street party: My constituents are 60 to one against Boris Johnson, says Conservativeon January 17, 2022 at 5:23 pm

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Conservatives have been hearing local opinion on the ongoing row about No 10 parties during lockdown.

Steve Baker

Conservative Steve Baker has said his constituents are “about 60 to one against the prime minster” amid the row over No 10 parties during the lockdown.

The MP said “rule-makers must obey the rules” but added he would wait for Sue Gray’s report before taking any action.

Opposition parties, as well as six Conservative MPs, have called on Boris Johnson to resign over the issue.

But minister Nadhim Zahawi said the PM would remain in place, adding that “he’s human and we make mistakes”.

Last week, Mr Johnson admitted attending an event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 during the first coronavirus lockdown.

He said he had stayed at the drinks for 25 minutes to thank staff for their hard work and had believed it to be a work gathering.

Downing Street has neither confirmed nor denied a report in the Daily Telegraph that Mr Johnson has been interviewed by Ms Gray, the senior civil servant carrying out an inquiry into this and other gatherings on government premises during Covid restrictions.

Mr Baker’s comments come after his Conservative colleagues spent the weekend canvassing public opinion on the prime minister, with some reporting widespread anger with Boris Johnson.

Speaking outside Downing Street, Mr Baker told reporters: “My constituents at the moment are about 60 to one against the prime minister.

“I’ve listened very carefully to members of my [Conservative party] association, too. There are some very strident voices in my constituency demanding that I support the prime minister.

“What I would say is I made my view very clear at the beginning of December: that there must be one rule for all; that the rule-makers must obey the rules that they apply on others.”

He said MPs were waiting for the result of Ms Gray’s investigation.

The former minister is an influential voice among Conservative MPs, having previously led a powerful pro-Brexit group within the parliamentary party.

He supported Mr Johnson to become leader of the party in 2019, but has recently been critical over some of his decisions on coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s ex-senior aide Dominic Cummings has accused the prime minister of knowing he was at a party when he went to the event on 20 May 2020.

In a tweet, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson “knew he was at a drinks party cos he was told it was a drinks party and it was actually a drinks party”.

Dominic Cummings

Last week, Mr Johnson told MPs in Parliament he “believed implicitly” the event was work-related.

And No 10 has said it is “untrue” he was warned about the event in advance.

Another Conservative MP, Chris Loder, said he had received hundreds of emails about parties, adding: “I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation until I’ve seen the facts, but then real action is required, and then we shall go from there.”

For a Conservative party leadership contest to be triggered, 54 Conservative MPs must write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, to say they no longer have confidence in the prime minister.

On Sunday, former minister Tim Loughton became the sixth Tory MP to call on Mr Johnson to resign, saying his position was “untenable”.

In a Facebook post, he added the public deserved “clarity, honesty and contrition”, instead of “obfuscation, prevarication and evasion”.

‘Red meat’

It is reported that those around Mr Johnson have started “Operation Save Big Dog”, which could include an overhaul of his top team, following criticisms of the culture within Downing Street.

But Education Secretary Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman also dismissed reports of “Operation Red Meat” – rushing out policies popular within the party to bolster the PM – saying: “None of these issues are things that we have not been seeking to address for some time.

“[The government is] continuing to deliver on those policy priorities.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC radio Mr Johnson was “too weak to lead… he has lost all authority and that matters, whatever party you are in,” he added.

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Downing Street party row

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Sir Keir has said a picture of him drinking beer in an office last spring did not show a breach of Covid rules in place at the time.

The Labour leader said the photograph, which first emerged last year, was of him in a constituency office in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election.

“There is simply no comparison” to the culture within Downing Street, Sir Keir said, adding that Conservatives bringing it up were trying “to take everyone into the gutter with them”.

But Mr Zahawi said he hoped Sir Keir “finds [it] within himself to apologise” over the image.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

10 May 2020

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps” out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to “obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

15 May 2020

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

20 May 2020

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

17 July 2020

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality” in England by Christmas “through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

5 November 2020

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

13 November 2020

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

27 November 2020

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

2 December 2020

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

10 December 2020

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

14 December 2020

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party’s London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’

15 December 2020

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo – published by the Sunday Mirror – showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher

16 December 2020

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate” and an “error of judgment” by staff.

17 December 2020

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce – the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was “truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result”.

18 December 2020

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

12 April 2021

Lockdown restrictions were eased in England, with pubs and restaurants allowed to reopen with outdoor service only.

However, working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

16 April 2021

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM’s then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Boris Johnson was not at either party.

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