Boris Johnson's official spokesman has failed to deny reports the PM told MPs he did not think he was at fault over the Downing Street party.
Pressed on claims that Johnson said he doesn’t deserve the blame over the party, the spokesperson merely said they were “unsourced claims”.
On Wednesday, the prime minister apologised for attending a “bring-your-own-booze” (BYOB) party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first coronavirus lockdown, but insisted he believed it was a work event and could “technically” have been within the rules.
While the PM told MPs he understood the "rage" many people felt over the revelations, it has been reported that Johnson was said to be less contrite when speaking privately to his colleagues afterwards.
According to The Times, the PM met with colleagues in the House of Commons tea rooms after his apology and told them “we have taken a lot of hits in politics and this is one of them”.
The paper claims he added: “Sometimes we take the credit for things we don’t deserve and this time we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve.”
On Thursday morning, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis became the latest member of the Cabinet to support Johnson, insisting the PM was “very, very sincere” in his apology, playing down reports that he did not believe he did anything wrong.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I haven’t heard him say that at all. I wasn’t in the tearoom. So commenting on tittle-tattle that may have come out of the tearoom I can’t do.”
Watch: Brandon Lewis defends Boris Johnson after party apology
Late interventions from foreign secretary Liz Truss and chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.
While Johnson endured a difficult session of PMQs on Wednesday, Sunak had notably spent the day away from London on a visit in Devon.
But Lewis told Sky News: “I have seen Rishi working with the prime minister. They work absolutely hand-in-hand. I know that Rishi has got support for the prime minister.”
Lewis insisted Johnson was the right person to be prime minister and “I think we will be able to go forward and win a general election”.
But shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that relatives of those who died during the pandemic are “appalled, horrified and re-traumatised” by the events and asking how senior ministers could have been telling the country what to do during the lockdown “and yet they weren’t doing it themselves”.
The PM pulled out of a planned visit to a vaccination centre in Lancashire on Thursday, where he would have faced questions from the media about his actions, because a family member tested positive for coronavirus.
Watch: Boris Johnson's constituents react to lockdown party row