Boris Johnson fights off resignation calls following Sue Gray report

Despite former leader Theresa May's condemnation over leadership failures British Prime Minister survives heated Commons appearance

Prime Minister Boris Johnson fends off calls to resign as he delivers a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on the Sue Gray report. Photo: PA
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to have fought off calls to resign after he apologised for the Downing Street lockdown parties and promised reforms following the Sue Gray report.

During a fractious Commons session, in which the leader of the Scottish National Party was sent out for refusing to withdraw a comment, there was no perceptible sign of rebellion within the ranks of Conservative MPs.

An hour after publication of Mrs Gray's report into Number Ten’s lockdown parties Mr Johnson made a statement to the Commons opening with the words that he was “sorry” for the transgressions.

“Firstly I would like to say I am sorry,” he said adding that “we must learn” from the mistakes.

On that basis he announced reform of Downing Street by creating an Office of the Prime Minister, with a permanent secretary to lead its 400 officials.

“I get it and I’m going to fix it,” he concluded to cheers from his own benches and jeers from the opposition.

Mr Johnson was fortunate that Mrs Gray’s report was light on facts and details after the police requested access to her findings last Tuesday, receiving 300 photographs and 500 documents.

Despite numerous calls from MPs to publish in the report in full – from both sides of the House – Mr Johnson refused to confirm that he would.

The resulting delay from the police investigation means that he has been given time to try to restore his authority.

A moment of silence amid the clamour came when former prime minister Theresa May was called to speak.

The British public had the “right to expect” their prime minister would follow the rules but the Gray report demonstrated that Downing Street was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public,” Mrs May said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to make a statement at Parliament following publication of the Gray Report into lockdown parties. Getty.

That suggested Mr Johnson, who effectively pushed her out of Downing Street in 2019, had either “not read the rules or didn’t understand what they meant … or didn’t think the rules applied to No 10. Which was it?”

Mr Johnson dismissed her question, suggesting that was not what the report had said.

Former Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell also attempted to force his resignation stating “he now no longer enjoys my support”.

But the Gray report failed to provide ammunition that Sir Keir Starmer needed to inflict political damage.

The prime minister was facing a “criminal investigation” the Labour leader said and it had a “damning conclusion”. Mr Johnson was “hiding behind a police investigation” and should “do the decent thing and resign”.

It was left to SNP leader Ian Blackford to attempt to land the hammer blow. Mr Johnson had “lied” and “misled the House”, he berated, breaching the convention that MPs are not allowed to accuse each other of lying.

When the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, asked him to withdraw the charge he refused and was sent out of the chamber.

The police are now investigating 12 of the parties at which at least two were attended by Mr Johnson. However, even if he is handed a £100 fixed penalty fine, which is unlikely, the prime minister has possibly again escaped great political jeopardy.

It requires 54 Conservative MPs to trigger a vote of confidence in the leader but judging by Monday’s support, albeit somewhat grudging, it appears Mr Johnson is safe.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 6:56 AM