Boris Johnson kicked off Prime Minister’s Questions with a heartfelt apology yesterday, saying he understood public “rage” over the incident and would have acted differently in hindsight.
In a rare moment of humility, the PM told MPs that he attended the May 20th 2020 gathering for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff”.
“I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said.
But “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that – even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”
The scandal has prompted furious Tory MPs to call for the prime minister to resign.
And although Cabinet ministers jumped into action to defend Mr Johnson, the late interventions of foreign secretary Liz Truss and chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.
Mr Sunak had notably spent the day away from London on a visit in Devon.
Mr Johnson faced open revolt from one wing of his party, as MP for Moray and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called on him to quit.
He was joined by all 31 Tory MSPs, according to reports.
This morning, The Times has reported that Ross spoke to the PM shortly after his bruising PMQs appearance and he was far from contrite.
He said that the prime minister told him that he “believes he didn’t do anything wrong”, which chimes with other reports from the tea room.
Those present said he told colleagues that “we have taken a lot of hits in politics and this is one of them”, adding: “Sometimes we take the credit for things we don’t deserve and this time we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve.”
It is understood that Johnson declined to guarantee that further damaging details about lockdown-breaking gatherings would not emerge.
Privately, Johnson is said to feel frustrated and believe he has been put in a difficult position by others. He is determined not to quit.
“He’s not going to resign, he’s a fighter,” one ally said. “He has more fight in him than the vast majority of people. He’s frustrated that he’s in this position. He’s a force of nature. If there’s a single person who can charge through all of this it will be him. Never underprice that.”