Johnson backs colleague as Christmas party scandal rages

Starmer urges Conservative MPs to topple PM, claiming he is unfit for office

Boris Johnson has expressed confidence in his director of communications Jack Doyle following reports that Mr Doyle attended a party in Downing Street on December 18th last year that is now the subject of an investigation.

The British prime minister this week asked his cabinet secretary to investigate whether that party and two others around the same time broke the strict lockdown rules in force at the time.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman said that Mr Doyle had not offered to resign and continued to enjoy the prime minister's full confidence. The spokesman said Downing Street officials were "liaising" with Christopher Geidt, the independent ministerial standards adviser, over apparent discrepancies in Mr Johnson's account of the refurbishment of his flat.

Mr Johnson told Lord Geidt that he did not know about how the refurbishment was funded until details emerged in the media about the role of a Conservative party donor. But an investigation by the electoral commission discovered that the prime minister had exchanged WhatsApp messages with the donor about the refurbishment months earlier.

Ratings plunge

Mr Johnson's personal ratings have fallen to an all-time low as Labour extended its lead in a number of polls. A Survation poll conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday this week put Labour on 40 per cent, six points ahead of the Conservatives' 34 per cent.

Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell said Conservative MPs were openly discussing Mr Johnson’s leadership following the revelations about Downing Street parties during lockdown.

“This hugely cuts through with voters,” he told the BBC. “Boris, more than anyone, his position depends on being seen as an electoral asset. If over time that goes, he really is in trouble.”

Former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell warned that Mr Johnson would be in "considerable trouble" if he failed to get a grip on Downing Street and to deliver better government.

‘Get a grip’

“I very much hope that he will still be prime minister in a year, but if Downing Street don’t get a grip on all these things and start to deliver the sort of governance that many of my colleagues are talking about openly now, then the prime minister will be in considerable trouble,” he told Times Radio.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said he was confident of winning the next general election, describing Mr Johnson as unfit for office and calling on Conservative MPs to topple him.

“The question – and this is really the question that I think is central now – for the cabinet, for ministers and for all Tory MPs, frankly, is are they prepared to endure the next two years of increased degradation of themselves and their party, being put out to defend the indefensible and bringing themselves and their party into further disrepute? Because this isn’t going to change – he’s unfit for office, it isn’t going to change. Or are they going to do something about it?” he told the Daily Telegraph.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times