Boris Johnson is drawing up a list of officials he wants to quit in a bid to save himself over the partygate scandal, it has been reported.
The Prime Minister – who tonight faced fresh allegations that regular drinking sessions were held in Downing Street over lockdown – has reportedly dubbed the plan ‘Operation Save Big Dog’, according to The Independent.
Whitehall sources told the paper that the idea is to limit the damage caused by the potentially bombshell report on the Downing Street party scandal expected next week.
Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, his private secretary and author of the now infamous ‘BYOB’ email, have both been tipped as possible departures.
No names have been confirmed yet, but Whitehall sources say it is broadly accepted that at least one senior political appointee and a senior official must be seen to leave Downing Street after Gray’s report is published.
The senior civil servant is leading an inquiry into an ever-expanding list of alleged rule-breaking parties in Downing Street and other official buildings.
In the run up to her report, No 10 is expected to go on a comms blitz emphasising a contrite Prime Minister and listing his achievements amid the difficult choices posed by the pandemic.
However, the plan reportedly also includes sounding out support among backbenchers for possible leadership rivals – reflecting just how precarious the situation is.
Downing Street refused to comment on the plan and said ‘we do not recognise this phrase’ when asked about the name ‘Operation Save Big Dog’.
Separately, The Financial Times reports that the PM is planning a major overhaul of his Downing Street operation as part of efforts to save his job.
Gray is expected to cast the blame widely for the party scandal and not deliver a fatal blow to the Prime Minister, the FT reports.
Allies of Mr Johnson hope this could save him from a leadership challenge if he placates rebel backbenchers with a shake-up of his top team instead.
One long-time backer said: ‘The best-case scenario is that Sue Gray reports back . . . and he can then respond with a convincing changing of the guard in Number 10.’
As well as changes to his personnel, Mr Johnson is also said to be planning a domestic policy reset, including launching a white paper on ‘levelling up’ and ending Plan B coronavirus restrictions.
Speculation about the Prime Minister’s future has been growing since he admitted on Wednesday that he did attend the ‘bring your own booze’ Downing Street party during lockdown in May 2020.
He said he thought it was a work event and claimed that he had not seen an invitation from his principal private secretary for 100 staff to bring their own alcohol to ‘socially distanced drinks’.
But this excuse enraged opposition and Tory MPs alike, many of whom have been publicly calling for him to go.
The Prime Minister’s apology followed months of reports of rule-breaking lockdown parties over the course of the pandemic, more of which have emerged today.
On Friday, the former director general of the government’s Covid Taskforce apologised for holding leaving drinks in the Cabinet Office during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was co-operating Sue Gray’s probe and admitted to a ‘gathering … with drinks, in our office’.
It followed an apology from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace after The Daily Telegraph reported on two No 10 parties allegedly held on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially-distanced funeral.
Boris Johnson was at his country residence Chequers on that date and had not been invited to the events.
But tonight, he faced yet more claims of rule-breaking.
The Daily Mirror reported that Downing Street staff held ‘wine-time Fridays’ throughout the pandemic with Boris Johnson witnessing the gatherings regulary.
Sources told the newspaper that the Prime Minister encouraged aides to ‘let off steam’, despite indoor socialising being banned under lockdown rules.
The event was so popular that staff are said to have invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep their wine, Prosecco and beer cool.
An extraordinary picture published in the Mirror appears to show the chiller being delivered through the back door of Downing Street.
The paper says this happened on December 11, 2020 – when rules banned two or more people from different households meeting indoors, unless ‘reasonably necessary’ for work purposes.
Aides allegedly took turns on Fridays to visit the local Tesco Metro in Westminster with a wheely suitcase to fill up the 34-bottle capacity fridge.
Number 10 did not deny the claims but pointed to Gray’s ongoing Whitehall investigation.
Asked about ‘Wine-time’ Fridays a spokesperson said: ‘There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.
‘The findings will be made public in due course.’
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