Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to rule out a leadership bid if Boris Johnson is forced out as he acknowledged the Government needed to rebuild trust after the “partygate” disclosures.
Despite deepening disquiet in the Tory ranks, Sunak insisted the prospect of a leadership contest remained a “hypothetical situation” and that the Prime Minister had his full support.
However, in a BBC interview he acknowledged that some Conservative MPs who would like to see him replace Mr Johnson in No 10.
“Well, that’s very kind of them of them to suggest that, but what I think people want from me is to focus on my job,” he said.
“I know a few of my colleagues have said that and they’ll have their reasons for doing that, but I don’t think that’s the situation we’re in,” he added.
“The Prime Minister has my full support. And what people want from me is to be getting on with my job, which is what I’m doing.”
His comments came after three more Tory MPs disclosed publicly on Wednesday that they had submitted letters calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
It followed the publication of the interim report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray into lockdown drinking parties in Downing street which was highly critical of the leadership in No 10.
Other Tory MPs are thought to be waiting for the publication of her full findings, which have been delayed due to the ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into 12 gatherings over the course of 2020 and 2021.
Mr Sunak confirmed that he was at one of the events subject to police inquiries – a birthday do held by No 10 staff for Mr Johnson in the Cabinet Room in June 2020.
However, he insisted that he had been there for a routine meeting to discuss the Covid situation and would not be drawn further on what took place.
“I am in the Cabinet Room for a Covid meeting much like the other 100, 200, God knows how many other Covid meetings,” he said.
“You’re asking me about something that happened almost two years ago. I went to that Cabinet Room, as I did many other times for Covid meetings. And it’s right, that we allow this police investigation.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged the Government needed to rebuild public confidence following the disclosures over parties during lockdown.
“I can appreciate people’s frustration. And I think it’s now the job of all of us in Government, all politicians, to restore people’s trust.”Rishi Sunak
Earlier former Cabinet minister David Davis warned that Tories who wanted to replace Mr Johnson faced a prolonged struggle to prise him out of No 10.
“My concern about this… was that this would be a death of a thousand cuts over months or even over a year, which is what’s happened with every previous leader of the Conservative Party who has been removed; it’s taken a long time,” he told Times Radio.
“And in that time the country is partially paralysed, every single issue is seen through the lens of ‘is it there to promote Boris or prop up Boris’.”
Mr Davis, who first called on Mr Johnson to stand down two weeks ago, said he would be consulting with his local Conservative association before deciding finally whether formally to call for a no confidence vote.
Under party rules, there must be a vote of confidence in the leader if 54 Tory MPs – 15% of the parliamentary party – write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady calling for one.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly, a long time ally of Mr Johnson, warned it was not the moment for a leadership battle at a time of heightened international tensions over Ukraine.
However Labour Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservatives under Mr Johnson were no longer capable of governing the country and reiterated his call for him to go.
Speaking at the launch of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, he said: “This is a Government in paralysis, instead of representing the people who elected them and addressing the challenges the country faces they’re intent on saving themselves, not serving the country.”