Boris Johnson will spend this weekend seeking to shore up his support among Conservative MPs, as allies of the UK prime minister expressed concern he will soon face a no-confidence vote as a result of the “partygate” scandal.
Downing Street is braced for the publication next week of a report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into parties in Number 10 held during coronavirus lockdowns, including a “bring your own booze” gathering attended by Johnson in May 2020.
Gray is working through the weekend on her report, assisted by six other civil servants, and people briefed on the matter said it might not be published until the second half of next week because of the number of individuals she is interviewing.
The mood within Downing Street is said to be “increasingly bleak” about the consequences of Gray’s report for Johnson, according to government insiders.
One said: “There’s a sense at the heart of government that Gray is going to be bad, she will lay out the facts and the facts will be tricky.”
Downing Street did not respond to a request for comment.
Johnson has said he thought the May 2020 gathering in the Downing Street garden was a work event.
Allies of Johnson said they were increasingly resigned to a no-confidence vote, but thought the prime minister could win it.
Many Tory MPs have indicated they will not take a final view on whether to push for a vote until they have read the Gray report.
A total of 54 Conservative MPs must submit letters to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories, to trigger a vote. He is thought to have received 30 letters.
“There’s a growing sense of inevitability that the letters will go in after Gray,” said one minister loyal to Johnson. “But even if they hit 54, Boris will fight and I think we’ll win.”
Johnson is due to spend this weekend speaking to Conservative MPs in an effort to bolster his position, according to allies.
Ministers and MPs who back Johnson are also planning to contact Tory colleagues in an attempt to calm concerns about partygate. One Johnson supporter said: “It’s up to us now to save his career.”
Another MP who backs Johnson said: “People are mindful that Boris has been one of the most popular politicians . . . even if the brand is damaged at the moment. People in seats like mine are still glad they voted for Brexit and glad that he got it done.”
One member of the 1922 committee executive agreed it was likely that 54 MPs would submit letters to Brady after Gray’s report, but predicted the prime minister would then win the no-confidence vote.
But other Conservatives were less optimistic about Johnson’s chances of surviving the vote, partly because some Tories are starting to focus on the prospect of a party leadership contest that could involve chancellor Rishi Sunak, foreign secretary Liz Truss and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
One Tory official said: “What is the reason to vote for Boris now? When you have that many groups plotting leadership bids, it looks pretty fatal for the prime minister.”
Further revelations about government parties that took place during coronavirus restrictions were published on Friday.
The Telegraph reported that a Downing Street party held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 continued for seven hours until 1am, and involved attendees playing on the slide of Wilfred Johnson, the prime minister’s son.
Rebel Conservative MPs who are angry about Johnson’s involvement in the partygate scandal are planning to submit letters to Brady requesting a no-confidence vote.
One rebel Tory predicted at least 54 letters would go to Brady. “I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Downing Street said it was not probing claims that Johnson’s team was blackmailing rebel Conservatives intent on ousting the prime minister.
Labour called for an inquiry after senior Tory William Wragg, who has called for Johnson to quit, said the party’s parliamentary business managers were threatening to withhold funding from MPs’ constituencies.
A Downing Street spokesperson said he was not aware of any evidence to support the allegations, but “we would look at it very clearly if any evidence to support those claims comes forward”.