Labour has jumped 10 points ahead of the Tories for the first time in nearly a decade as beleaguered Boris Johnson faces calls to quit over the lockdown party scandal.
A new public opinion poll shows the opposition has opened its biggest lead against the Conservatives since December 2013.
The prime minister’s future is now hanging in the balance as incensed Tory MPs plot how they can trigger a leadership challenge.
There were claims last night that letters demanding a vote of no confidence – 54 of which would trigger a challenge – were being submitted to Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the backbench 1922 Committee.
Mr Johnson finally said sorry on Wednesday for attending the ‘bring your own booze’ Downing Street party during lockdown in May 2020.
But he insisted he thought it was a ‘work event’ and claimed that he had not seen an invitation from his principal private secretary for 100 staff to bring their own alcohol to ‘socially distanced drinks’.
According to The Times, Tory MPs said he later told them in the Commons tea room that he did not believe he had personally done anything wrong and said that ‘we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve’.
This has enraged top Tories and the opposition alike, many of whom are publicly calling for the PM to go.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, confirmed yesterday that he had sent his no-confidence letter.
He said Mr Johnson’s position was ‘no longer tenable’, adding: ‘I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.’
Sir Roger Gale also warned the PM to go ‘with dignity as his choice’ or face intervention from the 1922 commitee.
‘You don’t have bring-a-bottle work events in Downing Street, so far as I’m aware,’ he said.
Tory MP for Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Noakes, said thinks the PM is ‘regretfully, a liability’ and won’t survive the next general election.
She said: ‘I think he either goes now, or he goes in three years’ time at a general election, and it’s up to the party to decide which way around that’s going to be.
‘I know my thoughts are is that he’s damaging us now.’
Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed those who were calling for Mr Johnson to go as ‘people who are always unhappy’.
In an interview with BBC Newsnight, he branded Ross a ‘lightweight figure’ and said he had always been a long-standing critic of Boris.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis also backed Mr Johnson, saying he can lead the Tories to victory in the next general election.
But the YouGov poll suggests otherwise, with Conservative voters also appearing to turn on the PM.
The poll, conducted for The Times before Mr Johnson apologised, found that six in ten voters believed he should resign, including 38% of those who voted Tory at the last election.
It found that 78% of the public did not believe that the prime minister had been honest in his answers to questions about a series of alleged parties, including 63% of Conservative voters.
The poll suggests Labour support is now 38% (+1), Conservatives 28% (-5) and Lib Dems 13% (+3).
And although some Cabinet ministers jumped into action to defend Mr Johnson, the late interventions of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also called on the Prime Minister to resign, as did the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.
Hannah Brady, from the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father Shaun Brady died just a few days before the BYOB event, said if Mr Johnson did not step down, his MPs had a ‘moral duty’ to remove him.
The majority of Tories, however, were keeping their own counsel until the outcome of a potentially bombshell report being prepared by a senior official, Sue Gray, who is investigating the lockdown parties.
Cabinet ministers repeatedly deferred to the investigation when questioned yesterday, and Downing Street earlier said that any questions of details of the party were a matter for the inquiry.
This report is expected at the end of next week and could tip how many letters of no confidence are submitted.
Ms Nokes said even though she trusted Ms Gray to ‘get to the bottom’ of what happened and tell the truth, she was unclear on who would be responsible for delivering any sanctions.
She pointed out that if the ministerial code is found to have been broken, the Prime Minister is the final arbiter of that himself.
And the PM, for his part, is said to be intent on saying.
On ally told The Times: ‘He’s not going to resign, he’s a fighter.
‘He has more fight in him than the vast majority of people. He’s frustrated that he’s in this position. He’s a force of nature. If there’s a single person who can charge through all of this it will be him. Never underprice that.’
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