Boris Johnson has a “duty to resign” if his “bodies pile high” comments are true, the SNP has demanded.
The prime minister has denied saying he would be prepared to allow “thousands” to die rather than order a third coronavirus lockdown.
The remarks, published in the Daily Mail, were reportedly made after Johnson reluctantly agreed to a second lockdown in October – and suggest he was prepared to face a mounting death toll rather than order a third set of tough restrictions, something he was eventually forced to do.
Asked if he made the comments, Johnson told reporters on a campaign stop in Wrexham: “No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.
“They have, and I really pay tribute to the people of this country, this whole country of ours, really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we have got the disease under control.”
Those remarks are unlikely to appease the SNP, who branded the alleged comments “utterly abhorrent”.
Ian Blackford, the party’s Westminster leader, said: “If they are true, Boris Johnson has a duty to resign. The prime minister must now come to parliament to give a statement, and face questioning, on these shocking claims and the growing Tory sleaze scandal engulfing Westminster.
“The public have a right to know what is going on, and why the Tory government has been handing out multi-million pound contracts, special access, tax breaks and peerages to Tory donors and friends.
“The difficulty for Boris Johnson is he has lied so many times it’s impossible for anyone to trust a word he says. A full independent public inquiry is the only way to provide transparency and accountability. Those responsible must be held to account.”
The SNP’s resignation gambit comes a little over a month after the Scottish Conservatives called a vote of no confidence in Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership over the Alex Salmond affair.
“There’s clear evidence now that Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and I think she should consider her own position,” Ruth Davidson – the leader of the Scottish Tories at Holyrood – said at the time.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, also added his voice to calls for the first minister’s resignation, suggesting she should step down if she was found to have broken the ministerial code. Sturgeon was eventually cleared of doing so.
Ministers have vehemently denied claims that Johnson made the incendiary comments on Monday morning.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “not true” to suggest the prime minister made that comment, while Health Minister Nadine Dorries said it was an “outright lie”.
Wallace told Sky News: “We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories – unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events.
“None of this is serious. The prime minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid.”
Dorries added that it was “mendacious, vexatious, co-ordinated gossip” aimed at destabilising the Tory campaign ahead of local elections on 6 May.