Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure to get a grip on the drip-feed of revelations about Downing Street rule-breaking as he fights to stay in office.
Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood said the prime minister must “lead or step aside,” telling the BBC: “We need leadership.”
The comments by the House of Commons Defence Committee chair came as further claims emerged of regular “wine time Friday” gatherings in Downing Street while coronavirus rules were in place.
The Mirror said the weekly events are a long-standing No. 10 tradition, including under previous administrations, and they continued after COVID-19 restrictions were introduced prohibiting indoor mixing between households.
The newspaper said staff bought a £142 ($194) fridge to keep their bottles of alcohol chilled, and the prime minister was aware of the socialising.
A No. 10 spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting, and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.
“The findings will be made public in due course.”
Ministers have called on disgruntled Tory MPs to wait until senior civil servant Sue Gray has published her investigation into claims about lockdown-busting parties in government. But backbencher Andrew Bridgen said he did “not need to see what Sue Gray says to know that, for me, Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country.”
The North West Leicestershire MP confirmed he submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership “some time ago.”
Only a handful of Tories have publicly declared they have submitted letters to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, while 54 are needed to trigger a leadership vote.
Asked by BBC Breakfast about reports of “wine time Friday” sessions in Downing Street during the lockdown, Bridgen, said: “It doesn’t matter, quite honestly, if the prime minister was present or not present.
“Ultimately, he is responsible for what goes on in government, he is responsible for the culture in No. 10, and what we’re seeing is a culture where it is one rule for them and the rest of us do as we’re told, and that’s just not acceptable.
“I’m not sure that any apology is going to put that right.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated Bridgen’s assertion that the prime minister had lost his moral authority, and called for the Tory party to topple him.
Johnson’s government has faced over a dozen partying allegations, two of which were during the first lockdown, when people were barred from visiting family members in hospital and attending funerals.
The prime minister faced further embarrassment this week after Downing Street was forced to apologise to Buckingham Palace on Friday after it emerged two staff parties were reportedly held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
Witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music as two after-work events merged on April 16, 2021, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine, according to the Telegraph, which first reported the allegations.
Starmer, who demanded Johnson step down over the allegations, was accused of hypocrisy on Fri after a resurfaced video appeared to show him drinking from a glass bottle and speaking to colleagues on May 20, 2021.
Labour said in a statement that the party leader was only pausing for dinner during work.
“Keir was in the workplace, meeting a local MP in her constituency office and participating in an online Labour Party event,” the statement reads.
‘They paused for dinner as the meeting was during the evening.”
The Epoch Times contributed to this report.