Orris Johnson has faced calls from senior Tories to step down after apologizing for attending a “bring your own wine” gathering in the No 10 garden during England’s first lockdown.
The prime minister insisted he believed it was a “work programme” and Downing Street said he would never encourage employees to bring a bottle and “make the most of the beautiful weather”. Email was not sent.
But in a sign of growing Tory anger, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called on him to step down, while another MP labeled the prime minister a “walking dead man”.
In the Commons Mr Johnson said he attended the 20 May 2020 gathering for about 25 minutes to “thank the staff’s groups”, but “I should have sent everyone back in”.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the public’s anger, saying: “I know how angry they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street that the rules are properly followed by the rule makers. Not being followed.”
He said an investigation was investigating the situation but acknowledged that “there were things we didn’t feel right and I should take responsibility”.
Downing Street declined to say whether his then-fiancée Carrie Symonds had attended the gathering, whether Mr Johnson had paid attention to the dinner tables or if he had brought his own bottle to the garden.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary told reporters that all such questions were the subject of investigation by senior official Sue Grey.
But she insisted Mr Johnson had not been sent an invitation email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, who was encouraging aides to “bring their own wine” to the garden.
After 6 p.m. on the day of the event, the time specified in the invitation for people to “make the most of the beautiful weather”, Mr Johnson went to the garden to thank the staff for their efforts and stayed for 25 minutes.
“I clearly believed it was a work program,” he said.
He said, “I should have sent everyone back inside from behind.
“I should have found some other way to thank him.
“I should have recognized that even though it could technically be said to come under guidance, there are millions and millions of people who wouldn’t see it that way, people who are suffering greatly, people who need to visit loved ones. It was forbidden for everyone inside or outside, and I sincerely apologize to him and to this House.”
I think the time has come for either the Prime Minister to go with respect as his own choice, or for the intervention of the Committee of 1922.
Mr Johnson’s press secretary insisted he was not messed up and “he is not resigning”.
The powerful backbench Tory 1922 committee was holding a regular meeting on Wednesday, with the prime minister’s future hanging in the balance.
Moray MP Ross said Mr Johnson’s position was “no longer valid”.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said it was already clear Mr Johnson had misled parliament and was a “walking dead man” politically.
Sir Roger told the PA news agency: “The prime minister said what he said in the dispatch box: he spent 25 minutes in what he described as a work schedule.
“Well, I’m sorry, as far as I know, you don’t have a ‘bring a bottle’ work program in Downing Street.”
Sir Roger, a prominent critic of Mr Johnson, said: “I think the time has come for the prime minister to go with respect as his choice, or for the 1922 committee’s intervention.”
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer also demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation.
He said: “The party is over, Prime Minister.
“The only question is, will the British public throw him out, will his party throw him out, or will he do a good job and resign?”
The embattled prime minister also faced calls from the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey to step down.
Hannah Brady, the campaign group for justice for the bereaved families of COVID-19, said that, if Mr Johnson does not step down, his lawmakers have a “moral duty” to remove him.
His father, Sean Brady, 55, died days before the “Bring Your Own Wine” event and his death certificate was signed on the same day it was held.
The Chamber of Commons was packed in anticipation of Mr Johnson’s first public response to the leaked email regarding the 20 May 2020 incident, although Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was seen as a possible successor to Tory leader, criticized Devon. Notably absent on the trip.
Mr Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, now one of the prime minister’s staunch opponents, said the claim that the incident was “technically within the rules” is “nonsense”.
But he said Mr Johnson’s only option would be to admit he broke the rules and resign.
In a sign of public noise for the prime minister’s answer, ITV’s This Morning cut the House of Commons live to hear his apology.