'Boris is the best leader for Britain': Minister backs PM amid Tory calls for him to go

13 January 2022, 09:05 | Updated: 13 January 2022, 09:57

By Emma Soteriou

Brandon Lewis has backed under-fire Boris Johnson, insisting he is the best leader for the country despite fury over the 'partygate' scandal.

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Thursday, the Northern Ireland secretary said: "[Boris Johnson] is the right person to take us forward and win the next general election too."

His defence came despite several Scottish Tory MSPs, including leader Douglas Ross, called for the Prime Minister to quit after he confirmed at PMQs on Wednesday that he attended a "bring your own booze" party at Downing Street.

Asked if he thought the PM should resign, Mr Ross told STV News: "If the Prime Minister was there, and he accepted [on Wednesday] that he was, then I felt he could not continue.

"What we also heard from the Prime Minister today was an apology and he said with hindsight he would have done things differently, which for me is an acceptance from the Prime Minister that it was wrong and therefore, I don't want to be in this position, but I am in this position now, where I don't think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives."

Mr Johnson has been ridiculed for claiming he believed it to be a work do.

Former Conservative MP and minister Michael Portillo also branded the Prime Minister as "poisonous", saying: "Boris is a poisonous brand and he's poisoning the brand of the Conservative Party."

However, Mr Lewis said he "fundamentally disagreed" with the comments.

He said: "We have got the right person leading the country and the right person to do the work to ensure the country continues to move forward in the future."

Read more: Defiant Boris clings on with Cabinet support as senior Tories call for him to quit

Read more: Boris Johnson is 'poisoning the brand of the Conservative Party', Portillo says

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg previously told LBC's Iain Dale that he felt Mr Ross was not "a big figure".

He said: "I don't think it's a surprise that Douglas Ross takes this view.

"He's never been a supporter of the Prime Minister. He has constantly made disobliging comments against the Prime Minister.

"I don't think Douglas Ross is a big figure."

Meanwhile, Nick also pushed Mr Lewis on why the front runner to replace Mr Johnson - Rishi Sunak - was nowhere to be seen during his apology on Wednesday, describing Mr Sunak's supports as "a little lukewarm".

However, the minister reiterated that the country already had "the right leader".

"We've got the right leader and Prime Minister for our country and Rishi was on a long-arranged visit yesterday," Mr Lewis said.

It came as Mr Sunak was instead spotted 200 miles away, in Ilfracombe, Devon, on Wednesday.

"As Parliamentarians we do have these planned visits," Mr Lewis explained.

"He has always been supportive of the Prime Minister.

"I've got to say, I see the Chancellor and the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers working together for the benefit of people across this country.

"If you look at the financial input we've done for businesses and individuals across this country, that's been a piece of work the Prime Minister has done with the full support of the Chancellor all the way through the pandemic."

Liz Truss, another potential replacement for the top job, also waited before posting her support, although her words were stronger, saying she was "100 per cent" behind Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson confirmed that he had attended the "bring your own booze" event at Downing Street for 25 minutes in May 2020, breaching Covid restrictions in place.

However, he told MPs during Wednesday's PMQs: "No 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.

"When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event."

A leaked email appeared to show civil servant Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson's principal private secretary, inviting more than 100 Downing Street staff to the event.

Mr Johnson and other Tories have echoed their support for an investigation under way into a series of party allegations from throughout the pandemic.

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