A Cabinet minister has insisted Boris Johnson is still the man to lead the Conservatives into another general election victory despite a slump in the polls over No.10 partying revelations.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said he believed Johnson was the “right person” to be prime minister despite facing calls from his own side to quit over his admission that he attended a Downing Street party on May 20, 2020 during the first lockdown.
An embattled Johnson was forced to apologise to the public yesterday, saying he understood “the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed”.
But defending his actions, Johnson said he believed at the time it was a “work event” permitted “technically”under the rules when he “went into that garden”.
Lewis was one of a number of Cabinet ministers to rally around Johnson — saying the prime minister did not believe he actually broke Covid rules and that people must wait for the outcome of an investigation into the parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
“The prime minister has outlined that he doesn’t believe that he has done anything outside the rules,” he told Sky News.
“If you look at what the investigation finds, people will be able to take their own view of that at the time.”
The revelations have given the Labour party its biggest lead over the Conservatives for the first time in nearly a decade, with a YouGov poll for the Times — conducted before Johnson’s apology — put Labour on 38%, the Tories on 28% and the Liberal Democrats on 13%.
The same poll also found that found that six in ten voters believed Johnson should resign, including 38 per cent of those who voted Tory at the last election.
It revealed that 78 per cent of the public did not believe Johnson had been honest in his answers to questions about the alleged parties, including 63 per cent of Conservative voters.
But Lewis insisted that Johnson remained the “right person to be prime minister” and that the Tories would be able to win another general election with him at the helm.
“I think we will be able to go forward and win a general election,” he said.
“This is somebody who wants to deal with that and do it in a way that delivers for everybody in the UK, and that is why I think he will win the next election.”
Already there are signs that Johnson’s apology has not pacified mutinous Tory MPs — five of whom, including Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross — have called on Johnson to quit.
Senior Conservative Caroline Nokes was the latest Tory MP to demand Johnson’s resignation, telling ITV: “Regretfully, he looks like a liability.
“And I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a general election.”
And while some Cabinet ministers lined up their defences, some — chancellor Rishi Sunak — were conspicuous by their absence.
The chancellor was notably absent during Johnson’s apology in the Commons, choosing to take a trip to north Devon instead.
After an initial period of radio silence as other Cabinet colleagues lined up their defences, Sunak tweeted: “The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her inquiry.”
Lewis downplayed suggestions of Sunak’s lukewarm support for the PM, saying: “I have seen Rishi working with the prime minister. They work absolutely hand-in-hand. I know that Rishi has got support for the prime minister.”
He added: “What I have seen yesterday, and I have seen consistently through this, is the Cabinet have been completely joined-up, working together.”