Boris Johnson remained in deep trouble over the “partygate” affair on Tuesday, as one-loyal Conservative MPs said the prime minister should quit and others put him on a three-month probation until local elections in May.
Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, called for Johnson to go “after a great deal of soul searching”, while other mainstream Tory MPs said they were agonising over whether to call for a no-confidence vote.
Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, told BBC Radio Devon he was “wrestling with his conscience”, adding that “many prime ministers would resign” over revelations of a lockdown party culture in Downing Street.
Although most Tory MPs say the immediate danger to Johnson has passed, there is widespread agreement that his survival as prime minister beyond the summer is uncertain.
Downing Street on Tuesday confirmed – after initial hesitation – that it would make public any penalty notice handed over to Johnson following a Metropolitan Police investigation into lockdown parties in Whitehall.
Johnson has also reluctantly agreed – under pressure from Tory MPs – to publish a full version of the report by Sue Gray, a top civil servant, into the parties, once the police have concluded their own inquiry.
In her “updated” report published on Monday, Gray criticized a “failure of leadership” in Number 10 and unearthed a drinking culture but she had to excise most details at the request of the Met.
Some in government believe Gray’s original report was “dynamite” and highly damaging to Johnson, who attended some of the parties, hence his original reluctance to guarantee to MPs that it would be published.
Many Tory MPs fear the prime minister and party could suffer more harm when the Met finally reports. They see the local elections on May 5 as a key moment to assess whether Johnson is still a winner.
Although most believe the threat of a no-confidence vote has receded for now – a total of 54 Tory MPs are required to trigger one – many Conservatives remain deeply troubled by Johnson’s alleged conduct.
One MP said Johnson’s defiant statement on the Gray report in the House of Commons was “a disgrace”. The MP, who is weighing whether to call for a no-confidence vote, said: “Listening to him made me feel dirty.”
Andrew Mitchell, a former chief whip, said on Tuesday that Johnson was “corroding the fabric of the Conservative party” and that the party scandal was like “battery acid” on her reputation.
One pro-Brexit MP said he had been urged by local party members to join the campaign to unseat Johnson, while a Tory MP from the 2019 intake said: “He has lied to the House of Commons – that is clear.”
The MP added: “Many of my intake aren’t objecting to his policies per se but the nature in which he has conducted himself. This is not what we came into parliament for. ”
A House of Commons select committee chair said: “I think he’ll get through to the May elections but who knows how much collateral damage there will be to the party in the meantime.”
Meanwhile Johnson faced Tory criticism for alleging in the Commons that Sir Keir Starmer, Labor leader, had failed as director of public prosecutions to prosecute the late pedophile Jimmy Savile.
Julian Smith, another former Tory chief whip, said: “The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Savile yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended.
“It should be withdrawn. False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and cannot just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. ”
Downing Street declined to repeat the claim made by Johnson in the Commons under parliamentary privilege.