Conservative WhatsApp groups quiet for now - but partygate far from over for Boris Johnson
ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports on how MPs have reacted to the fine
I’m told that there is virtual silence on Tory Whatsapp groups today, after the Prime Minister and Chancellor were fined for attending law-breaking events during the Covid pandemic.
Much of that is timing – during parliamentary recess as MPs are spread across the country, but also, critically, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Even Boris Johnson’s biggest critics – like Sir Roger Gayle who was one of the first to call for the PM to go, says it would be wrong to destabilise the government at this time.
Other MPs who were actively involved in plotting against Johnson, told me a while ago they hoped he wouldn’t get a fine, and now say – that because of Ukraine they don’t want any action.
As one Cabinet source who was involved in trying to shore up Boris Johnson’s support in a shadow whipping operation some months ago put it to me – “if it was back then we’d be in all out panic now, worrying about 54 letters of no confidence”.
Now, they say, the mood is much calmer with no sense that will happen imminently.
But they also know that this is far from the end of this partygate saga.
There is a lot of anger could this be fatal for Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak? Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana breaks it down
Not only might there be more fines from the Met (given this one only relates to the birthday cake event, which is arguably not as bad as others) but it is only after all of this that we will finally get the full version of the Sue Gray report.
And from what I’m hearing, it is going to be absolutely damning.
After all, Gray’s job was to paint a picture of everything that was happening inside Downing Street and the Cabinet Office – and we know that picture is not going to be pretty.
Already, 50 people have received police-issued fines for breaking the law at the heart of government, but the details of the actual parties are pretty shocking too.
These are parties with suitcases of booze, karaoke machines, and even – on one occasion – a physical fight in the middle of the night.
Gray is not known as someone likely to hold back – and in the final report she will name people who are senior. I’m told there could be around 20 names in that report, and revelations that will still shock – after everything we’ve already been told.
The pressure might focus more heavily on the civil service – and in particular, Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case – as well as other senior officials, some of whom have been fined, like former deputy cabinet secretary, Helen MacNamara.
Should her report land when the focus is back on the domestic agenda that could be uncomfortable.
In terms of other risk points – the Cabinet source said that what Rishi Sunak decides to do could be critical. If he goes, that would put immense pressure on the PM, they argued. And beyond that – it would be dangerous for Johnson if there is momentum building up among MPs.
That doesn’t feel likely right now, but that could change. Sir Roger Gale, for instance, has argued that this could be back on his agenda in the future, when things are calmer in Ukraine. And some are angrier than others.
One MP argued that their colleagues were using Ukraine as an excuse for not putting letters of no confidence in. “Both the PM and Chancellor to take responsibility for their actions. They need to explain themselves. What were they thinking when they behaved like this. We've walked through the mirror into a new age of politics where anything goes."