A cabinet minister said the coronavirus lockdown rules were “too tough for the people” as allies rallied Boris Johnson during his appearance at the No. 10 drinks event, while social gatherings were banned.
The prime minister apologized for attending a “bring your own wine” party in Downing Street Garden in May 2020 during the first coronavirus lockdown, but insisted he believed it was a work event And “technically” could have been within the rules.
Members of the government urged critics of the prime minister to wait for the findings of an official investigation into alleged lockdown-busting parties before passing a decision after Tory lawmakers publicly called for him to quit.
The prime minister on Thursday pulled out of a planned visit to a vaccination center in Lancashire, where he had to face media questions about his actions, after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus.
The situation would keep him out of the public eye, with Downing Street saying he would follow advice to limit contacts “including until Tuesday of next week” despite not self-isolating because he has been vaccinated.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating a series of parties and celebrations held at Number 10 and Whitehall in 2020 while coronavirus restrictions were in place.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs: “The prime minister came here yesterday and apologized. He said that, in retrospect, what he should have been or what he wanted to be was not.
“It is being investigated by Sue Grey, a civil servant of the highest integrity and of the greatest reputation.
“But I think everyone on all sides of the House understood that the people were following the rules, and it was very difficult for the people to follow these rules.”
I have suggested that a comprehensive investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic should investigate “whether all those rules were proportionate, or was it too hard for people”, as people visit their loved ones or attend funerals. Couldn’t happen.
Number 10 said the government had tried to find the “right balance” in the rules, but “there is no cost-free alternative”.
Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis also urged people to wait for the outcome of the Gray investigation before deciding on the prime minister’s future, saying Mr Johnson believed he was within the rules.
“The prime minister has underlined that he does not believe he has done anything outside the rules. If that’s what you find in the investigation, at that point people will be able to have their views on that,” said the Northern Ireland secretary.
Cabinet ministers publicly defended Mr Johnson after his apology on Wednesday, but the late intervention of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as possible successors – has instilled confidence in his future. Very little to do.
While Mr Johnson endured a difficult session of questions from the prime minister on Wednesday, Mr Sunak spent the day notably on a trip to Devon away from London.
The prime minister’s official spokesman stressed that the cabinet fully supported Mr Johnson.
Asked about delays by Ms Truss and Mr Sunak in showing their support, the spokesperson said: “What the prime minister wants and expects the cabinet to focus on is meeting the priorities of the public.”
Asked if he felt he had the full support of his cabinet, the spokesman said: “Yes.”
But Mr Johnson faced open rebellion from one wing of his party after Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged him to step down, with almost all Tory MSPs supporting the call.
Mr Ross was dismissed as a “lightweight figure” by Mr Rees-Mogg after his intervention.
Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Ross had held a position in the Conservative Party, so supporting the leader was an “honorable and appropriate thing to do”.
At Westminster, three other Tory MPs have publicly said Mr Johnson should go – Sir Roger Gale, former minister Carolyn Noakes and the chairman of the Committee on Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs William Ragge.
On Wednesday in the Commons, the Prime Minister said he “with remorse I should have sent everyone back inside” instead of spending 25 minutes in the No 10 Garden to thank the staff for their work on 20 May 2020.
Downing Street insisted he had not been sent an email from his principal personal secretary, Martin Reynolds, asking colleagues to “make the most of this lovely season” to go to the garden for “socially-distancing drinks”. – and urged them to “bring their own”. own wine”.
Deputy Labor leader Angela Renner suggested that Ms Gray’s investigation could leave Mr Johnson to act as “judge and jury” on his conduct.
He said any matter relating to ministers exposed in the investigation would be dealt with under the Ministerial Code – with the prime minister in charge.
“So is the prime minister going to act as judge and jury, even if he is also in the dock? Or will his Conservative allies find their integrity and eventually act as executioners for their premiership? ,
Ms Rainer wrote to each cabinet minister asking them to “come clean” about attending any gatherings during the lockdown.
The Metropolitan Police indicated that any investigation conducted by them would depend on the evidence revealed in Gray’s interrogation.
The prospect of a police investigation raised the possibility that the investigation could be halted, but a statement from Scotland Yard said: “The Met is in contact with the Cabinet Office regarding this investigation.
“If the investigation identifies evidence of behavior that is potentially a criminal offense it will be passed on to the Met for further consideration.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson suffered another blow as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam – one of the government’s most effective communicators during the pandemic – announced his departure.
He will leave at the end of March to take on a new role as Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham.