'Boris will always let you down' - anger among Norfolk Conservatives
- Credit: PA
Anger towards Boris Johnson over his attendance at a lockdown party in Number 10 is growing among grassroots Conservatives, with one former Norfolk Tory MP branding him an "overgrown schoolboy".
Keith Simpson, who stood down as Broadland MP in 2019, spoke out after the prime minister apologised for attending the 'bring your own booze' gathering in the Downing Street garden during England’s first lockdown.
Mr Johnson told MPs he been at the event on May 20 2020 - when tough Covid restrictions were in place - for about 25 minutes and insisted he believed it had been a “work event”. But he added that "with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside".
Details of the event emerged this week, after the leak to ITV News of an invitation email from Mr Johnson's principal private secretary Martin Reynolds encouraging colleagues to “bring your own booze” to the garden. The prime minister said he was never sent the email.
His admission has triggered calls for him to resign and created a febrile atmosphere in the Tory party, with many speculating in private about Mr Johnson's future.
Support for the prime minister from serving MPs has been limited, with many preferring to keep quiet on the issue, rather than speak out to back the PM or to criticise him.
However, former Broadland MP Mr Simpson launched a scathing attack on the leader.
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"To understand Boris Johnson, you have to look back at his childhood and for most of his life he has been like an overgrown schoolboy. He is like a 15-year-old in a 57-year-old's body," he said.
"He has spent all of his time, as a journalist and in politics, ducking and weaving and lying and cheating.
"That was why I could never vote for him [in the Conservative leadership contest]. I voted for Jeremy Hunt because, at the end of the day, Boris will always let you down.
"He has remarkable abilities and people have enjoyed that, but the music has stopped. He has been caught out.
Mr Simpson, who served as an MP for more than two decades, said that if Mr Johnson loses the support of Tory MPs he will be forced to go - and that that was a real risk for him.
"If Conservative MPs think he is no longer an electoral asset, they will get rid of him. I don't think they've quite reached that point yet.
"But I think his problem is that, at the end of the day, he seems to have broken the rules, and not just him, but others at Number 10.
"And this happened at a time when hundreds of people were being prosecuted across the country for breaching restrictions - that's a dangerous area for him to be in.
"Time and again he has misled and lied. He thinks he has a God-given right to do certain things.
"But you will have to use a tyre lever to get his hands off the door of Number 10."
One Norfolk Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the growing unrest over Mr Johnson's leadership of the party.
The Tory said the party rank and file was still fuming over the prime minister's alleged involvement in prioritising the evacuation of animal charity Nowzad's dogs and cats from Afghanistan, at a time when many people were still trying to get out of the country. Mr Johnson has denied he did so. "It's time to let the adults into the room," the Norfolk Conservative said.
Simon Jones, chairman of Norwich Conservatives, welcomed the fact that Mr Johnson had apologised.
But asked whether Mr Johnson was the man to lead the party when elections for Norwich City Council were held in May, Mr Jones would not comment.
Baroness Shephard - who represented South West Norfolk from 1987 to 2005 before becoming a peer - would not be drawn on whether Mr Johnson should resign.
But she said: "I am deeply saddened by the whole situation."
Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said it was already clear Mr Johnson had misled parliament over the issue and that politically he was a “dead man walking”.
He said it was either up to him to quit or be forced out by the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee.
Sir Roger told the PA news agency: “The prime minister has said what he has said at the despatch box: he spent 25 minutes at what he described as a work event.
“Well, I’m sorry, you don’t have ‘bring a bottle’ work events in Downing Street, so far as I’m aware.
“And you don’t have ‘bring a bottle’ work events that are advertised or invited by the prime minister’s private secretary.”
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries and communities secretary Michael Gove supported Mr Johnson's apology.
Ms Dorries wrote on Twitter that: "People are hurt and angry at what happened and he has taken full responsibility for that. The inquiry should now be allowed to its work and establish the full facts of what happened”.
Mr Gove responded: "Nadine is right."
Daughter's fury over Downing Street party
A Dereham woman whose mother died while isolating under Covid restrictions, in the weeks after the Downing Street party, has described her anger at the revelations.
Adrienne Short, 66, who moved back to Norfolk from New York to look after her 89-year-old mother, Pam Jones, said: "Covid made the last six months of my mum's life a nightmare.
"She didn't have it, but had to isolate and it meant that she never met her only great-grandson, Harry.
"It makes my blood boil that while so many people were suffering heartbreaking losses, Boris Johnson was enjoying wine in the sun.
"She died in June and only six people were able to come to the funeral.
"I have since spoken to dyed in the wool Tories who say they can never vote Conservative again.
"It breaks my heart hearing of everyone who suffered multiple losses while Boris was having a nice party. He surely can't get away with it."