Pressure is intensifying on the prime minister and he won't be able to keep a low profile for much longer, reports ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks
Boris Johnson must resign as prime minister if he's found to have attended a lockdown-breaking party, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied he attended any parties during numerous lockdowns, however ITV News understands he was present at a gathering held in his Number 10 back garden at the height of the UK's first shutdown.
Claims by his former top aide Dominic Cummings that a party was held there on May 20, 2020, which the PM allegedly attended with his wife Carrie, were substantiated when ITV News was leaked a Number 10 email inviting more than 100 members of staff.
Mr Ross suggested the PM's initial claim that he attended no parties, first made to MPs after ITV News revealed a video showing Number 10 staff joking about a Christmas event, will mean he has to resign if an investigation finds he was at the May gathering.
"I've been quite clear throughout my time as leader and MP and previously a minister; if you mislead Parliament there's no defence of that and you have to go," Mr Ross said.
He added: "If he has broken the law by attending this party there are serious questions to answer... I would not in anyway support the prime minister if he broke the law and attended that party."
Misleading Parliament is a resigning matter, Douglas Ross says:
The PM has not given a direct response to the latest allegations and avoided an appearance in the House of Commons on Tuesday after Labour asked him an Urgent Question.
To the fury of MPs, he instead sent a minister to respond on his behalf, who told politicians the prime minister would not be commenting because of an ongoing investigation into wider-rule breaking in Downing Street, being carried out by top civil servant Sue Gray.
Asked whether the PM would resign if he's found to have broken the law, Mr Ellis said he's "going nowhere", adding: "The PM retains the confidence of the people of this country."
What next in terms of a potential police investigation? ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand explains, while ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston rounds up the Tory response
Conservative donor, John Caudwell, told ITV News the PM is in "a very precarious place" if found to have attended the drinks party.
The Phones4U founder, who donated £500,000 to the Conservatives ahead of the 2019 general election, said the series of party-related scandals had made him consider whether to making a financial donation when the next election comes around.
"The Tories will have to do a much better job than they're doing at the moment for me to consider backing them financially," he said.
He stopped short of saying he wanted the PM to resign, but added: "They made the rules and by golly if you made the rules you've got to stick to them."
Conservative donor John Caudwell unsure if he'll back Tories financially at next election
What was the reaction in the Commons as Boris Johnson sent a minister to answer Labour's urgent question?
But there was little support coming from Conservatives in the Commons, with the government front bench almost empty - a situation described as "unprecedented" by a Tory MP.
Another Tory, MP Nigel Mills, questioned how Mr Johnson can remain in his position if he's found to have broken his own lockdown rules.
"I can't see how anybody who organised a party or willingly chose to attend one can stay in any position where they're setting Covid policy," the MP for Amber Valley said.
"If he knew it was a party and chose to attend I'm not sure how he can hold a position in that situation."
Labour MP Afzal Khan said Mr Johnson "should be here" in the House of Commons after telling MPs of the death of his "lovely mum" around the same time of the alleged Downing Street party.
"My mum died of Covid in March 2020. She died alone in hospital while I sat in the car outside trying to be as close to her as I could. Even burdened with our grief, my family obeyed the rules.
"Just three days after the Downing Street party we marked a solemn Eid, the first without my lovely mum," she said.
Care workers remember the sacrifices they made at the height of lockdown - and their anger is visceral over reports of parties at Downing Street, reports ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana
Even Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle acknowledged the minister's "tough job" of defending the PM as he asked opposition MPs to quieten down: "It's quite obvious it's not the prime minister so we don't need to keep asking that question."
DUP MP Jim Shannon, contributing to the Commons debate on the party, was overcome with emotion when speaking in the Commons about the death of his mother-in-law.
The MP for Strangford said: "In Northern Ireland we reached the milestone of 3,000 deaths due to Covid just last week. Including my mother-in-law, who died alone."
Mr Shannon struggled to go on with his question before sitting back down.
'My mother-in-law, who died alone'
The scandal has prompted reaction from Hollywood stars too. Comedian Ricky Gervais told ITV News he understands the "palpable" public anger.
"Why wouldn't they be angry? Myself and everyone kept to the rules. I think I've been naive all my life, it's only now that I think, 'why do we trust them?
"Of course we shouldn't trust the people in charge!'" he added.
Ricky Gervais reacts to news of the lockdown-breaking party
ITV News revealed the party took place after being leaked an email from Martin Reynolds, the prime minister's principal private secretary, which was sent to Downing Street employees inviting them to the evening gathering.
Mr Reynolds said they should "make the most of the lovely weather", despite England being under tough coronavirus restrictions banning groups from meeting socially outdoors when the message was sent.
Prime Minister Johnson has previously insisted that rules were always followed in Downing Street throughout the pandemic and responding to the latest allegation, he said: "All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray."
But last year the PM said he was "sickened and furious" by a leaked video published by ITV News in which Number 10 staff joked about attending a separate party - the lack of a response this time has raised questions.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who was in self-isolation and unable to attend the Commons, accused the PM of "lying to the British public" about behaviour on Downing Street during the pandemic.
He said in a tweet that the PM's "deflections and distractions are absurd".
"Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them. Stop lying to the British public. It's time to finally come clean."
The Metropolitan Police, which has issued thousands of fines for rule breaches throughout the pandemic, has so far been resisting pressure to formally investigate party allegations against the government but Mr Ellis confirmed it has been in touch with the Cabinet Office since the email invite was revealed.
Mr Ellis said the matter "would be referred to the Metropolitan Police" and the current investigation "may be paused" if if evidence emerges of what was a potentially criminal offence.
Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson's absence from the Commons "speaks volumes".
She said: "It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements.
"The public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can't hide."
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "This is the most serious of matters because this is a Prime Minister who has been accused of breaking a law that he himself set. It could not be more serious."
Downing Street defended Mr Johnson's absence, saying it was "not uncommon" for ministers to answer Urgent Questions in the Commons.
Asked what the prime minister was doing rather than responding himself, the spokesman said: "I don't have the full diary in front of me at the moment but it's not uncommon, obviously, for Government ministers to answer these sorts of questions."