Boris Johnson’s anxious wait for an official report into Number 10 parties continues as he again faced calls to quit over the row.
The British prime minister has been speaking to Tory MPs in the House of Commons in an attempt to shore up his position while he waits for senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report on the parties in Number 10 and Whitehall during the 2020 coronavirus lockdowns.
The report was expected to be handed to Number 10 on Wednesday but had not been delivered by the time the Commons adjourned for the day, meaning Mr Johnson will not be able to make a statement to MPs on its findings.
At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Mr Johnson rejected calls to resign and insisted he was “getting on with the job”, although he acknowledged there were people who “want me out of the way”.
The contents of Ms Gray’s report could play a significant role in deciding the fate of Mr Johnson’s leadership, with Tory critics waiting for its findings before deciding if they will submit formal letters of no confidence in him or not.
An indication of how damaging the report could be for the UK government came when Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick announced a police inquiry was being carried out, based in part on evidence obtained by the Gray investigation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested Mr Johnson had misled the UK Parliament about Downing Street parties, something which would normally require a minister to resign.
Asked if he would now quit, the prime minister said: “No.”
Mr Starmer said: “We now have the shameful spectacle of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being subject to a police investigation, unable to lead the country, incapable of doing the right thing and every day his Cabinet fail to speak out they become more and more complicit.”
He said Mr Johnson and his government had “shown nothing but contempt for the decency, honesty and respect that define this country”.
Mr Johnson replied: “Of course he wants me out of the way – he does, and of course I don’t deny, for all sorts of reasons, many people may want me out of the way.”
But he said Mr Starmer wanted him out because “he knows that this Government can be trusted to deliver”.
He added: “We’re – and in particular I am – getting on with the job.”
The issue of what form the Gray report will be published in appears to be a source of tension between the inquiry team and Number 10.
Sources close to the probe expect it to be published in full, although ultimately it is a matter for Mr Johnson to decide.
Downing Street said it is the “intention” to publish the report in the format in which Mr Johnson receives it.
“It is simply a reflection of the fact that we have not received the findings and don’t know its format, that’s why it remains our intention to publish it as received,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
The spokesman said he was not aware of the police asking to interview the prime minister in relation to the Met inquiry, but “as a rule I’m not going to be getting into individuals who may or may not be involved”.
Labour could use parliamentary procedures in an attempt to force the publication of the full Gray report if Mr Johnson does not release it.
That could take the form of a “humble address”, effectively a message to the Queen demanding the publication of papers.
The steady stream of alleged breaches of lockdown rules have undermined the prime minister, but many critics have held off putting in formal letters of no confidence until Ms Gray’s report is released.
If Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, receives 54 letters – from 15 per cent of Tory MPs – a vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership would be held.
Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said Mr Johnson needs to “reset” his administration.
“I don’t need Sue Gray or the police to tell me or my constituents of Harlow that what’s gone on has been pretty awful,” he told Times Radio.
“We all feel let down and disappointed.”