Covid rule were "very hard for people to follow" and Boris Johnson will take no notice of calls for his resignation after he attended a lockdown-breaking party, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
The leader of the Commons gave his support to the prime minister, who is hot water after admitting he attended the event in the garden of Number 10 at the height of the UK's first lockdown in May 2020.
The PM apologised for joining around 40 people in his Downing Street garden, but claimed to be oblivious it was a party, believing it was instead a "work event".
That explanation did not satisfy several of his own MPs who, along with dozens of opposition MPs, said the prime minister must resign.
Mr Rees-Mogg defended the prime minister for attending the rule-breaking party, suggesting Covid laws being implemented at the time may have been too tough for people to follow.
He said: "Everybody understands on all sides of the House that people were obeying the rules, and that these rules were very hard for people to obey."
He added: "We must consider as this goes to an inquiry and we look into what happened with Covid, whether all those regulations were proportionate, or whether it was too hard on people."
Mr Rees-Mogg was one of the few to publicly support the prime minister, saying that backing the party leader is the "honourable and proper" thing to do.
Responding to calls from the SNP's Pete Wishart for Mr Johnson to quit, the Cabinet minister told the Commons: "I think that his call for the prime minister to resign is one that will not be taken any notice of."
The prime minister's excuse that he didn't know he was at a party has been widely ridiculed in the House of Commons and social media.
That's because an email (below) sent by the PM's principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, leaked by ITV News, invited more than 100 staff members to attend the event which urged them to "make the most of the lovely weather" by attending "socially distanced drinks" in the No 10 garden - suggesting it was not sold as a work meeting.
Mr Johnson's apology was followed by calls for his resignation from senior Conservatives including leader of Scottish Tories Douglas Ross, veteran MP Sir Roger Gale, Caroline Nokes and William Wragg, chair of the Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
ITV News has heard anonymously from other Tories who believe Mr Johnson's position is untenable and a "handful" of no confidence letters are understood to have been submitted to the 1922 Committee.
To remove a party leader, 15% of Tory MPs must submit letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee - effectively the HR department of the Conservative Party - which would then trigger a secret ballot.
If 50% of Tory MPs back the PM in the ballot he will remain party leader, if he fails to secure a majority he will be removed.
Downing Street insisted the PM was "focused on the public's priorities" when asked if he was concerned about letters going in to the Tory 1922 Committee calling for a no confidence vote.
Watch Boris Johnson's apology in full:
A spokesperson for the PM rejected Tory MP Sir Roger's assessment of Mr Johnson as a "dead man walking" but added: "We very much appreciate, as the prime minister made clear yesterday, there are strong views on this issue.
"That's why the prime minister came to the House to apologise, to make clear we did not get things right and he takes responsibility for that."
A small number of Mr Johnson's allies have given public support to the prime minister, however the chancellor's words were not the most convincing.
Rishi Sunak, who went unheard from until after 8pm on Wednesday, wrote on Twitter: "I’ve been on a visit all day today continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation.
"The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her enquiry."
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted: “The Prime Minister is delivering for Britain – from Brexit to the booster programme to economic growth. I stand behind the Prime Minister 100% as he takes our country forward.”