Boris Johnson has been warned his position will be “untenable” if he knowingly attended a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden in breach of Covid rules.
The Prime Minister has been under growing pressure to say whether he was at the gathering in May 2020 after an email from his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds to Downing Street staff was leaked on Monday to ITV News.
Downing Street has refused to say if he was present, despite reports that he and his wife Carrie were among around 30 people to attend at a time when such gatherings were banned.
The Prime Minister has said it is a matter for Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who is investigating a series of reported parties in Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall in the course of 2020.
However Conservative backbencher Nigel Mills warned that any senior figure who willingly attended the event could not have a position setting Covid-19 policy.
“It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that,” he told BBC News.
“If the Prime Minister knowingly attended a party, I can’t see how he can survive having accepted resignations for far less.
“He accepted the resignation of his spokesperson (Allegra Stratton) for not attending a party but joking about it at a time of much lighter restrictions. I just think that’s untenable.”
Mr Mills added: “I don’t think we need an inquiry to work out whether the Prime Minister was there. He knows whether he was there or not. Just come out and say what happened.
“If he was there he better try a hugely fulsome apology and see if the country will buy it but I’m not sure they will.”
Earlier the leader of the Scottish Tories Douglas Ross again warned that Mr Johnson could not carry on in No 10 if he was found to have misled Parliament.
He said the Prime Minister should not wait for Ms Gray’s report to say whether he was at the event on May 20 in 2020.
“It’s definitely going to come up at Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow, so why not come forward, right now, and tell the public: was he at the party or not?” Mr Ross told the PA news agency.
“But I’m in no doubt that any member – whether the Prime Minister or otherwise – who deliberately misleads Parliament cannot continue. They would have to resign.”
Sir Charles Walker, the vice chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said there was a lot of anger over what had happened and said the Prime Minister urgently needed to rebuild public trust.
“I think the Prime Minister needs to spend the next six months restoring trust in No 10 and making some good and strong decisions. I think that is the challenge for him,” he told Channel 4 News.
Asked if Mr Johnson had that long to win back support, Sir Charles said: “That is for him to decide, for the parliamentary party to decide. But I think the Prime Minister is a fighter and he’ll want to prove to his doubters that he is up to the job.”
Amid growing public anger two snap polls found a majority now believed Mr Johnson should stand down as Prime Minister.
A Savanta ComRes study found 66% of British adults thought he should quit, with 24% saying he should stay while a YouGov survey for Sky News found 56% believed he should go, with 27% saying he should remain.
Mr Johnson faces a difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday but dodged scrutiny in the Commons on Tuesday, sending paymaster general Michael Ellis to face an urgent question instead.
In the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Johnson should resign, claiming he was “not being truthful” about his knowledge of the various parties.
Responding to opposition calls for Mr Johnson to resign in the Commons, Mr Ellis told MPs the Prime Minister was “going nowhere”, adding that he “retains the confidence of the people of this country and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decades”.
Mr Ellis said the Gray inquiry “will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action taken”.
The investigation could be paused if evidence emerges of a criminal offence and the Metropolitan Police decide to launch an inquiry.
Scotland Yard said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the latest allegation.
The Tory benches were sparsely populated, in a possible indication of a lack of support for the Prime Minister’s position on the issue.
Earlier, health minister Edward Argar told the BBC he could “entirely understand” why people who had lost loved ones or who had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions were “angry and upset”.
Hannah Brady, of the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the “socially distanced drinks”, wrote to the Prime Minister calling for him to say whether he attended the event.
She said: “It is a matter of common decency and respect for not only us or the British people, but the office you hold as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to tell us whether you attended this flagrant breach of the Government’s own rules.”