Tory MPs are warning that Boris Johnson must not fight to stay prime minister if he is fined by police over Downing Street parties.
The news comes after exclusive polling for The Independent showed the party risks a brutal backlash from voters with a record 75 per cent of voters thinking Johnson should go if he is found guilty of breaches
Allies of Mr Johnson have briefed that he is ready to fight to hold onto his position even if served with a fixed penalty notice, which starts at £100 but could rise to £12,000 if he is found to have breached rules at all six of the events he is alleged to have attended.
But there were fears among MPs that this could rebound disastrously on the party in upcoming elections if voters feel he has dodged punishment.
The Savanta ComRes survey showed a record 75 per cent of voters think Johnson should go if he is found guilty of breaches in investigations by the Metropolitan Police and Whitehall mandarin Sue Gray, with just 16 per cent wanting him to stay in those circumstances.
One Tory backbencher, speaking anonymously, told The Independent that the findings showed clearly that the public was not ready to “forgive and forget” the flouting of coronavirus restrictions in Downing Street.
And veteran MP Sir Roger Gale said that the new polling made clear Tories risk a backlash from voters if they support Mr Johnson’s efforts to hang on after a police fine.
“For the prime minister of the United Kingdom to be fined for breaking the law – and we are not talking about a parking ticket or something like that – and try to stay on would generate a public outcry,” said the Thanet North MP, who was the first to confirm he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson.
“His position, if it is not already untenable, will become completely untenable if he faces any kind of police sanction. If the parliamentary party then give him another 12 months in office by backing him in a confidence vote, I don’t think the voters will be best pleased.”
Though further confidence letters are unlikely to be submitted during next week’s recess while MPs are away from Westminster, exposure to constituents’ anger over Partygate may harden their resolve to bring the matter to a head before May’s local elections.
Pressure on the PM has mounted after Tory predecessor Sir John Major said his actions had “shredded” the UK’s reputation overseas.
Mr Johnson has sought to draw a line under the scandal with a shake-up of top personnel at 10 Downing Street, and is understood to have lined up a private lawyer to help him defend his actions if he is questioned as a suspect by police.
The prime minister is believed to be among around 50 individuals linked to Downing Street who have been sent police questionnaires about their involvement.
Outgoing Met Commissioner Cressida Dick has said it is clear that “some but probably not all” will receive fines.
Today’s poll of 2,232 voters found that 49 per cent believe Mr Johnson should resign no matter what the result of the police investigation and Ms Gray’s probe, with a further 26 per cent who say he should go if found guilty and 16 per cent who want him to stay regardless of the outcome.
But crucially, a majority of Conservative supporters – unlike those from other parties – are willing to see him stay on if he is cleared of personal breaches.
Some 32 per cent of people who voted Tory in 2019 said he should resign now, but 30 per cent want him to go only if proved to have broken the rules and 31 per cent to remain in office even if he is fined.
Among those who want the PM to resign, Partygate was the most-cited reason – mentioned by 83 per cent – followed by his perceived dishonesty (79 per cent) and his personal behaviour (77 per cent. For Conservative supporters who want him out, Mr Johnson’s lies were seen as a stronger justification for his removal than the lockdown breaches.
One Tory backbencher said the findings reflected the hostility towards the PM from constituents being felt by MPs.