Supporters of Boris Johnson have attempted to launch a fightback despite a growing belief within Westminster that the former prime minister’s political future is hanging by a thread.
Allies of the 58-year-old have continued to try to undermine the privileges committee inquiry into whether he lied to parliament during the partygate scandal, with one Johnsonite branding the probe a “proper junta”.
Mr Johnson’s prospects continue to look bleak in the wake of his near three-and-a-half hour grilling by the committee, during which he became embroiled in a series of angry exchanges with members of the panel.
He awoke on Thursday morning to a grim set of newspaper frontpages, with even the Daily Telegraph, his former employer and biggest proponent, declaring the Johnsonite movement as “imploding” along with Brexit.
But despite the increasing doubts over his future within Whitehall, his acolytes were insistent that the committee’s probe was overreaching.
One staunch Johnsonite told i: “There’s absolutely nothing new in the committee’s inquiry and he was transparent [during the evidence session].
“The committee was pernicious in questioning and quite frankly grandstanding. Bernard Jenkin didn’t cover himself in any glory and [committee chair Harriet] Harman has already found him guilty.
“It’s a proper junta,” the MP added.
Scott Benton, Tory MP for Blackpool South, went even further, ill-advisedly comparing Mr Johnson’s taking the oath on a King James Bible to that of the OJ Simpson murder trial.
Writing in the pro-Johnson Daily Express, Mr Benton demanded the committee call time on the probe, describing it as a “farce”, adding the former PM should be “acquitted”.
The comments were echoed by other prominent allies of Mr Johnson, including former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who insisted that it was “perfectly reasonable” for the former PM to think No 10 leaving drinks were in the remit of Covid regulations.
Mr Rees-Mogg insisted the evidence given by Mr Johnson was “very convincing”, adding that the Covid regulations in workplaces were “best efforts” rules when it came to social distancing.
“You were allowed to carry on with the ordinary business of an office, and therefore it was perfectly reasonable of the prime minister to think that the farewell events that were held were the ordinary business of the office,” he told TalkTV.
Whether the privileges committee takes a similar view appears doubtful, however, and there are fears within the Johnson camp that his pugnacious performance in response to the panel’s questioning could land him a heftier sanction.
The committee is understood to have taken a very dim view of Mr Johnson’s suggestion that he may not accept the findings of their inquiry, which could plunge Parliament into further turmoil.
The panel could hand out a 10 day suspension to the former prime minister, which could trigger a by-election, something polling experts have warned would be a major headache for the Tory party and Rishi Sunak.
Conservative peer and pollster Lord Hayward said any by-election would cause “serious problems” for the Tories.
“The party doesn’t want a by-election,” he said. “My guess is that if there were a by-election, certainly on current polls we would lose the constituency and therefore it’s something that is there but we can’t prejudge what the committee will decide.”
Asked about Mr Johnson’s popularity with Tory members, Lord Hayward told Sky News: “I think his support is diminishing and his impact on the party is diminishing the longer that Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister.”