ory MPs displayed their anger and dismay at the “Partygate” scandal engulfing Boris Johnson by failing to turn up in large numbers to support a minister defending the Government’s handling of the row.
Paymaster General Michael Ellis was left to fend off a string of allegations about the gatherings in the Downing Street garden.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner had secured an urgent question, seeking to get the Prime Minister to come to the Commons to explain whether he had been at a “bring-you-own-booze party” on May 20, 2020 when Britain was in lockdown.
With Mr Ellis answering the question, Labour MPs demanded to know why the Prime Minister had not turned up.
“His absence speaks volumes,” said Ms Rayner.
“He can run but he can’t hide.”
Mr Ellis dismissed her argument, saying: “It’s not routine for Prime Ministers to answer urgent questions before this House.
“His ministers are appointed to do so.”
No Cabinet ministers, and seemingly no other ministers apart from Mr Ellis, where on the Government frontbench for the exchanges.
One Tory MP texted ITV News’ Paul Brand, who broke the story about the email invite to the May 20 party, stressing: “Not a single minister has turned up to support the minister responding to Urgent Question [on the Downing Street party]. The front bench is empty. Unprecedented.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting messaged: “It’s clear from the House of Commons this afternoon that Conservative MPs are socially distancing themselves from the Prime Minister.”
But Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford said Mr Ellis was a “fall guy” who had been left to face the questions, with the Government’s stance being to refuse to answer a string of them until an investigation into the Downing Street parties by top civil servant Sue Gray reports.
Mr Blackford added: “The Prime Minister should be here to answer these serious questions,” highlighting how few Tory MPs, only a few dozen, had turned up in the Chamber.
The Opposition benches were packed as Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs scented Mr Johnson faces possibly the most difficult time of his premiership.