Leading Conservatives in northern England have said Boris Johnson must resign if he attended a Downing Street garden party at the height of the 2020 lockdown.
Senior Red Wall Tories voiced anger on Tuesday at finding themselves once again having to placate voters furious about allegations the prime minister broke his own coronavirus rules.
They fear that Mr Johnson may now be so toxic it will lose the party both parliamentary and council seats at future elections.
“If he is found to have attended this gathering, as they call it, he has no option but to resign,” Alan Marshall, a cabinet member with Darlington Council, told The Independent. “I stress that caveat: ‘if’. But if he went [to the party], absolutely he has to go. Being prime minister does not put you above the rules or the law.”
Mr Johnson has refused to answer questions on whether he attended a drinks event in the garden of 10 Downing Street on 20 May 2020, a time when Britons were only allowed to meet one other person outdoors.
An email inviting roughly 100 staff to the “BYOB” event was sent out by the PM’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds.
Mr Johnson has refused to comment until an inquiry into several alleged parties said to have been held in Downing Street has been concluded by senior civil servant Sue Gray, but witnesses have said he attended the event.
Antony Mullen, the Conservative leader on Sunderland City Council, said: “Martin Reynolds should have been sacked and I think Boris Johnson will inevitably have to follow him”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, he added: “I think this is such an atrocity, I can’t see how he can survive… It is now a question of the scale of the wrongdoing rather than whether there has been any.”
The criticism from within the PM’s own party came as a poll showed two-thirds of voters believe he should resign in the wake of the latest No 10 party allegations, which follow claims of other Downing Street gatherings during strict Covid restrictions in winter 2020.
Councillor Marshall, who sits on the first Tory council in Darlington for 40 years, told The Independent: “I’ll reserve my full judgement until the investigation comes out but, if the s**t hits the fan, we [in the north] will have to deal with that.”
Darlington is widely considered one of the jewels in the Conservatives’ take-over of the north’s old Labour heartlands, and the Tory council victory in May 2019 foretold that year’s general election landslide.
“At a local level we are making good progress and people are recognising that,” Councillor Marshall said. “But these constant controversies from Westminster – it makes the job harder and it will certainly make winning elections harder.”
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, has also called on the PM to resign, and other northern Tory leaders have voiced fears Mr Johnson’s comments will hurt them locally.
Adrian De La Mare, the leader of the Conservative group on Lancaster city council, told The Independent: “Put it like this: there is a feeling among people here that there has been a dual standard and that doesn’t sit well with them.”
Although he declined to comment on the PM’s future, he said: “I believe that anyone who goes into public service has to abide by the rules and the laws in place and, if they don’t … there needs to be a way of moving forward.”
He pointedly added that he would not have attended an invitation to drinks on that date “because the rules were very clear”.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, other Conservatives were less diplomatic.
“The crucial thing about Boris was that he could win elections by appealing to voters who weren’t traditionally Conservative,” said one council cabinet member. “That’s gone now. So you have to ask: what does he bring to the table as leader?”
Perhaps just as telling about the feeling towards Mr Johnson within the party were the number of Conservatives across the region who declined to defend him.
Ben Houchen, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, refused to comment, while the party’s intake of 2019 young northern MPs – including Jacob Young and Dehenna Davison – remained silent on the issue.