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Katy Balls

Inside Boris Johnson’s crunch meeting with Tory MPs

Inside Boris Johnson's crunch meeting with Tory MPs
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Just as Boris Johnson got up to address his party at a meeting of the 1922 committee, one more Tory MP called on social media for him to go: Julian Sturdy, the MP for York Outer, said in the wake of the Sue Gray report that it is in the public interest for the Prime Minister to resign. Johnson received a warmer reception on the committee corridor, even if the desk banging and cheers that can accompany such events were in short supply.

After the Prime Minister was criticised the last time he addressed MPs over partygate (when he received a fine) for cracking jokes and making light of the situation, he cut a far more sombre figure. 

'He was a lot less bombastic than the previous appearance,' says one attendee. Instead, Johnson used his opening remarks to say that he accepted that things had gone wrong and to say he was taking responsibility. However, he still managed to mention to MPs that a lot of the bad behaviour in the report was by civil servants. 

As tends to be the case with Johnson appearances, he ran through a government's 'greatest hits' list – heralding the vaccine rollout, Brexit and Ukraine support as evidence he had got the big calls right. As also tends to be the case with these meetings, they don't offer a full representation of the mood in the parliamentary party; critics are likely to stay away. The most hostile question came from Roger Gale, who has called for Johnson to go. Gale suggested the reputation of the party and parliament was being trashed. One MP took a different stance, suggesting the Prime Minister should stop apologising now as no-one wants to see a Prime Minister with their shoulders hunched and looking defeated. 

Those MPs trying to be supportive asked questions about Keir Starmer and beergate and whether the Labour leader was guilty of hypocrisy. The Q&A ran on so long that many of the questions were on general policy from grammar schools to planning reform. One Tory MP says that Johnson succeeded in 'not making things worse' with his appearance at the meeting. After a tough day – with the fallout from partygate set to continue over the coming days – there is relief among Johnson's supporters that the situation has at least not worsened since the meeting.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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