Tory MPs warn Johnson he is running out of friends after Frost quits

More trouble for PM as photo emerges of him at cheese and wine gathering during lockdown

Conservative MPs have warned Boris Johnson that he is running out of friends as the opposition said the government was descending into chaos following the resignation of David Frost as Brexit minister. Lord Frost resigned on Saturday night, citing concerns about the government's direction of travel.

“You know my concerns about the current direction of travel. I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change. Three hundred years of history show that countries which take that route grow and prosper, and I am confident we will too,” he wrote in a letter to the prime minister.

Mr Johnson has given foreign secretary Liz Truss responsibility for Britain's relations with the EU and negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol. But the announcement on Sunday night was overshadowed by the Guardian's publication of a photo showing the prime minister and his wife Carrie enjoying cheese and wine with others in the Downing Street garden last May.

Bottles of wine

Downing Street denied last week that there had been a social event on May 15th, 2020, including drinks and pizza, saying that staff were working in the garden in the afternoon and evening. The picture shows 19 people gathered in groups around the garden with bottles of wine, apparently in contravention of lockdown rules that said only two people from different households could meet outdoors and work meetings should only take place if absolutely necessary.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the picture was "a slap in the face of the British public", following reports of other parties in Downing Street that are being investigated for possible breaches of lockdown rules.

“The prime minister consistently shows us he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us. Alleged drinking and partying late into the evening [at No 10] when the rest of us were only recently getting one daily walk,” she said.

Lord Frost's resignation, which followed a Conservative backbench rebellion over coronavirus restrictions and a byelection defeat last week, caused alarm among Eurosceptic MPs. Andrew Bridgen warned Mr Johnson that he was "running out of time and out of friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government".

‘Enduring emergency’

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of the Commons defence committee, said decision-making in Downing Street must be improved.

“If you don’t have that collective direction of travel, particularly when dealing with an enduring emergency such as Covid, then people will question as to where is all this is heading,” he told Times Radio.

Jenny Chapman, who shadowed Lord Frost for Labour in the House of Lords, said Mr Johnson needed to get a grip.

“The government is in chaos. The country needs leadership not a lame duck PM who has lost the faith of his MPs and cabinet. Boris Johnson needs to get a grip, tell us his plan for the next few weeks and bring certainty for the people of Northern Ireland by unblocking the stalemate over the protocol,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

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