Boris Johnson 'thought he was going to motivate staff' by going to Number 10 drinks event

Nadhim Zahawi backs Boris Johnson's apology and explanation for the party

Boris Johnson thought attending a party in the Number 10 garden was "part of his work to motivate" his workforce, the education minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi is among a number of senior Conservatives defending the prime minister, who on Wednesday apologised for attending a lockdown-breaking party last year.

Mr Johnson has insisted, however, that he "believed implicitly that this was a work event."

On ITV's Peston, Mr Zahawi said: "I think the reason that he clearly wanted to apologise was because he implicitly thought that this was part of his work to motivate his team.

"With the benefit of hindsight and reflecting on the events of that day, he rightly said he regrets that deeply, apologised for it and showed I think real contrition that it was a real mistake".

Watch ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand's report on the PM's apology, and claim he thought the drinks party was a work event

Mr Zahawi added that now the prime minister has apologised, the public must await "the detail".

"I think the detail will come with Sue Gray's report and investigation," he said.

When asked how the party - to which an email, leaked by ITV News, invited more than 100 recipients to "bring their own booze" - could possibly be seen as work, Zahawi continued to defend his boss.

"Number 10 Downing Street is a big department as well as being home to the prime minister and I think when you frame the question as 'how is it work going out in your garden at home', well Number 10 is a big workplace," he said.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries, chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid are among those who also backed Mr Johnson on Wednesday.

But four Tory MPs have now called for the PM to resign. Speaking on ITV's Peston show, Caroline Nokes MP for Romsey and Southampton North added her voice to those calling for the PM's resignation.

"He looks like a liability and 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 that he's damaging us now, he's damaging the entire Conservative brand with an unwillingness to accept the strictures that other people have lived by."

Asked if she felt it was better for the sake of their party if Mr Johnson goes now, Ms Nokes said: "Absolutely, and the Conservative Party is a very long-standing, very respectable party that has worked very hard over very many years to win successive General Elections.

"It's bigger than one man. But that one man, you could see in the polls that Anushka Asthana showed us, is dragging the party down now."

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson told MPs he was at the party, but claimed he was only in the garden for 25 minutes to thank staff for their hard work before resuming work in his office. He admitted there were "things we simply didn't get right" and said he "regrets very much that we did not do things differently that evening.

"I believed implicitly that this was a work event. With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them," he said.

But an email, leaked to ITV News - which showed 100 staff were invited to "make the most of the lovely weather" by attending "socially distanced drinks" in the No 10 garden - brings into question his claim it was not a work event. Downing Street has claimed the PM did not see the email.

Watch ITV's Peston show on ITV at 10:45pm and after then on the ITV Hub.