The Commons chamber was packed in anticipation of Johnson’s first public response to the leaked email about the now notorious May 20 2020 event, where 100 people were invited.
The chancellor, viewed as a potential successor as Tory leader, was in north Devon at the time. His Twitter feed ahead of Wednesday’s statement read: “Excited to be in Ilfracombe this morning with Selaine Saxby.”
Despite radio silence in the immediate aftermath of Johnson’s statement at around midday, Cabinet colleagues were out in force on social media showing their backing.
Nadine Dorries, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid supported the PM’s apology, while deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told broadcasters that Johnson would be in post “for many years to come”.
Sunak eventually took to Twitter again at 8.11pm, and said the PM was “right to apologise”. Sunak wrote: “I’ve been on a visit all day today continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation.
“The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her inquiry.”
His tweet was seized upon – with many remarking on his thinly-veiled ambitions.
Senior Conservatives flooded broadcast studios and social media with praise for the PM.
Dorries, first out the traps, wrote on Twitter at just after 3pm that the “PM was right to personally apologise earlier”.
She said: “People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that. The inquiry should now be allowed to its work and establish the full facts of what happened.”
Responding to her message, levelling up Secretary Michael Gove: “Nadine is right.”
At around 9.15pm, foreign secretary Liz Truss, another thought to covet the top job, said: “I stand behind the prime minister 100% as he takes our country forward.”