A drip feed of no confidence letters in Boris Johnson has continued as pressure grows following the Sue Gray report into partygate.
There has been a steady trickle of Conservative MPs publicly calling for the PM to go after senior civil servant Ms Gray published her findings into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
Veteran Tory Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, added his name to that list on Friday, saying he did not regard the PM’s explanations as “credible” so has submitted a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady.
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Mr Johnson has said he did not regard the gatherings as parties and simply saw them as work events – which he says is backed up by the Met Police only fining him for one event, his birthday party.
The only person who knows how many MPs have submitted a letter is Sir Graham, chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs. It takes 54 letters to trigger a no-confidence vote in the PM.
As of Friday night, Sky News has counted 22 MPs – including Sir Bob – publicly calling for Mr Johnson to quit immediately since the Met Police fined the PM in mid-April. Not all have revealed if they have sent a letter to Sir Graham.
Sir Bob told Sky News the pattern of behaviour in Number 10 “over a number of months, clearly breached the rules”.
“I cannot accept that he was not aware of much of what was going on,” the former lawyer said.
“That is why, with a heavy heart, I submitted a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday afternoon.”
He added that for the Conservatives to win the next general election, the party needs a new leader otherwise it will lose – like some of the seats in his Bromley constituency did at May’s local elections.
Mr Johnson suffered a further blow on Friday as Paul Holmes quit as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s aide, saying a “deep mistrust in both the government and the Conservative party” had been created by the events.
The Tory MP said a “toxic culture… seemed to have permeated Number 10”.
Rutland and Melton MP Alicia Kearns said Mr Johnson “continues not to hold my confidence”, but did not reveal if she had sent a letter.
The Conservative MP is part of the 2019 intake who helped Mr Johnson win a large majority.
But, Mr Johnson remained assured of his leadership.
Asked whether he was confident he had enough support, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, but I think I gave some pretty vintage and exhaustive answers on all that subject the other day in the House of Commons. Then in a subsequent press conference.”
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Ministerial code changes
Changes to the ministerial code were also announced on Friday, including ministers no longer having to resign or face the sack if they are found to have breached the code.
The code, which sets out standards of conduct for government ministers, come as a result of the Owen Paterson lobby scandal last year, when the now-former MP was found to have breached lobbying rules but Mr Johnson asked his MPs to not back his suspension. After an uproar, he then U-turned, but Mr Paterson quit.
Opposition parties have accused the PM of “watering down the rules to save his skin”.
Mr Johnson is currently under investigation by the privileges committee over whether he knowingly misled parliament when he repeatedly told MPs there were no parties in Downing Street during lockdown – which the police and the Ms Gray inquiry have proved otherwise.
Deliberately misleading the House is considered a resigning matter.
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In a statement announcing the changes, the Cabinet Office said: “The government has been mindful of the need to avoid incentives for trivial or vexatious complaints which may be made for partisan reasons.
“Such complaints can undermine public confidence in standards in public life rather than strengthen it.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson is “downgrading standards and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes”.
“In a week when Boris Johnson’s lies to parliament about industrial rule-breaking at the heart of government were finally exposed, he should be tendering his resignation but is instead watering down the rules to save his own skin,” she added.
Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said the ministerial code changes are an “appalling attempt” by the PM “to rig the rules to get himself off the hook”.
“The prime minister shouldn’t be allowed to decide on his own punishment – with zero accountability. This is making him judge and jury in his own case,” she said.