For the first time, Boris Johnson admitted at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday (January 12) he had attended a "bring your own booze” gathering of at least 40 people in No 10’s back garden at the height of the first lockdown.
He defended his actions by saying he had been at the alleged party in May 2020 “for 25 minutes” to thank his staff and that he believed the meeting was “a work event”.
"I believed implicitly that this was a work event. With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them," he said.
He offered a “heartfelt” apology to to public and a jeering opposition in the House of Commons, but further claimed his attendance at the gathering “could be said, technically, to fall within the guidance”.
Calls to resign – starting with one from Keir Starmer, who said the public thought Johnson was “lying through his teeth” – began to roll in immediately and dominated the national news into Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, national bookies have slashed odds of the PM stepping down before the end of the week, with Betfred offering odds of 7/1.
Alongside opposition leader Keir Starmer and other Labour MPs urging for Mr Johnson to “do the decent thing”, the PM has also had to deflect calls from senior members of his own party.
In the aftermath of Mr Johnson’s statement, one of the Conservatives’ most senior backbenchers and vice-chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, William Wragg, publicly called for his resignation.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Wragg said: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t reassured (by what Johnson said at PMQs). I fear this is simply going to be a continuing distraction to the good governance of the country.
“And I’m particularly concerned, as a Conservative MP with interests of the country, my constituency and the Conservative party, that a series of unforced errors on matters of integrity are deeply damaging to the perception of my colleagues and the party. And that is deeply unfair to them.
"As colleagues are saying to one another and off the record, I sadly think that the prime minister’s position is untenable.”
Another senior Conservative voice, who called for Johnson’s resignation on the floor of the House of Commons, was leader of the party in Scotland, Douglas Ross.
He said: “I don’t want to be in this position, but … I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.”
Mr Ross later confirmed that he had submitted a letter calling for a no-confidence vote.
Other senior figures opposing John include veteran MP Sir Roger Gale.
The Prime Minister responded to every challenge in the Commons by urging ministers to wait for the outcome of an inquiry into the No 10 lockdown parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Any breach of coronavirus laws is punishable by a fine, and police have up to three years to investigate.
Meanwhile, national newspapers spent much of Wednesday evening reporting tipoffs and off-the-record chatter reportedly from Conservative MPs that they were submitting letters to the 1922 committee to trigger a vote of no confidence. 54 such letters are needed to trigger a vote.