Watch live as Boris Johnson takes questions from MPs
Boris Johnson is facing an increasingly angry chorus of his own MPs at Wednesday's PMQs amid reports there could soon be enough letters to trigger a no confidence vote in him.
Minutes before Prime Minister's Questions began, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford announced he had defected from the Conservatives to Labour.
In a statement he told Boris Johnson, "you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves".
Whitehall sources suggested on Tuesday night that MPs, already furious at the PM's handling of the Number 10 partygate scandal, had been further angered by Mr Johnson's apparent attempt to absolve himself of blame in attending a Downing Street party during lockdown.
The PM claimed on Tuesday that "nobody" told him that a May 20, 2020 garden party held in a Downing Street garden - proof of which was confirmed by a staff email invitation exclusively shared with ITV News - would break the Covid rules he had set.
Dozens of Tory MPs are thought to be hoping Mr Johnson will resign and defence minister James Heappey has told ITV News he is "very worried" the PM could be removed from office.
It is understood that more than 20 letters of no confidence in the prime minister have so far been submitted to the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, Sir Graham Brady.
A total of 54 are needed to trigger a vote over Mr Johnson's leadership and rebel MPs appear "excited" that the required amount could be sent in as soon as Wednesday or in the coming days, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand told Good Morning Britain.
ITV News understands that around 20 MPs, who won their seats in 2019, many of whom have slim majorities after votes were “lent” to them during the last election, held a secret ballot and were preparing to submit their letters to Sir Graham.
But it is understood the plot to oust Mr Johnson is far wider, as the PM will attempt to reassure his party when he appears in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday afternoon.
Many backbench Tories are thought to be reserving judgement on the prime minister until an investigation into rule-breaking on Downing Street concludes.
They want to know if Mr Johnson was telling the truth when he told MPs last Wednesday that he was oblivious to any party that had been planned and assumed he was attending a work event.
Minister Heappey told ITV News he believes the PM but accepted "millions of your viewers won’t".
He said if ministers are found to have broken the ministerial code they should "do the honourable thing".
The code says ministers who “knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
The move will likely please some backbenchers' anger over the at least 10 allegations of Covid rule-breaking parties engulfing Westminster.
But MPs from the former so-called Red Wall were said to have met on Tuesday to discuss Mr Johnson’s future in a gathering nicknamed the “pork pie plot” or the “pork pie putsch”.
Mr Johnson, who was reported to have spent Tuesday evening in his Commons office meeting with potential rebels, apologised multiple times in an interview for “misjudgments that were made”.
But he stuck to his defence that he had thought the “bring your own booze” party held in the No 10 garden on May 20, 2020 had been a work event and he had not been warned about it in advance.
Watch Boris Johnson's interview on Downing Street parties in full
Mr Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings threw that into doubt on Monday as he said he would “swear under oath” Mr Johnson was told about the bash.
But asked if he had lied to Parliament over the parties as he visited a north London hospital, the PM told broadcasters: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgments that I’ve made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.
“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that… was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Mr Johnson, speaking as he made his first public appearance after reducing his contacts last week when a family member had tested positive for Covid-19, said he “can’t imagine why on Earth it would have gone ahead, or why it would’ve been allowed to go ahead” if he had been told it was anything but a “work event”.
“I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event,” he said.
Mr Johnson confirmed he had given evidence to an inquiry being carried out into Whitehall parties during lockdown restrictions by senior official Sue Gray.
Mr Cummings has also agreed to speak to the civil servant who has been described as “formidable”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the prime minister his unequivocal backing on Tuesday and the 'ministerial code is clear' on what should happen if he lied to Parliament - but said he does believe the PM's explanation over the party.
But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries came out to bat for the PM, telling The Times those manoeuvring against him were “being disloyal to the prime minister, the party, their constituents and the wider country”.
Mr Johnson insisted he only saw the “bring your own booze” invite his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent to more than 100 staff “the other day… when it emerged”.
He declined to say whether he would resign if it was proved he did intentionally mislead Parliament, instead pleading for patience ahead of Ms Gray delivering the verdict of her partygate inquiry, which is not expected until the end of this week at the earliest.
He appeared distressed as he faced questions about two events in No 10 last April on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, during which the Queen sat alone as she mourned.
The Prime Minister audibly breathed heavily behind his mask as he said: “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.
“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”
Of those Tory MPs withholding their judgement for now, many accepted that if Mr Johnson was found to have misled Parliament, he would have to resign.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab accepted Mr Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he intentionally misled Parliament, while Mid Derbyshire Conservative MP Pauline Latham told Times Radio: “If he has lied to Parliament, there will be no choice.”
She said: “At the end of the day, he made the rules, he was in that briefing room looking at the cameras saying this is what you have to do. So you can’t say didn’t know what the rules were. We all knew what the rules were.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson “needs to go”.
“I think he’s trying to take the British public for fools. He’s not sorry that he clearly attended a party, knows it’s against the rules; he’s sorry he got caught for it,” she told the PA news agency.
“I think people are incredibly frustrated.”
But she added: “He won’t, of course, and now it’s up to his MPs to do the right thing.”