Boris Johnson has suffered the first resignation of a frontbencher since the publication of Sue Gray’s damning report into Partygate with the departure of Paul Holmes as a ministerial aide to the home secretary.
In a statement to his Eastleigh constituents, Holmes said his work as an MP had been “tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10”.
“Over the last few weeks this distress has led me to conclude that I want to continue to focus solely on my efforts in being your member of parliament and the campaigns that are important to you,” he said.
He did not say whether he wanted Johnson to resign, or if he had submitted a no-confidence letter, 54 of which are needed to trigger a vote on the prime minister’s premiership.
Eastleigh, on the south coast of England, was held by the Liberal Democrats until 2015. It is typical of the seats some Conservative MPs fear that – even with a substantial 15,000 majority like Holmes’ – could flip given voters’ concerns about Johnson.
Despite the prime minister’s allies trying to draw a line under the Partygate scandal, which has dominated the news agenda for six months, a series of Tory backbenchers have continued to call for his resignation.
Stephen Hammond, a former health minister who has a majority of 628 in his Wimbledon seat, described the conclusions of the Gray report as damning.
“I cannot and will not defend the indefensible,” he said. “I am struck by a number of my colleagues who were really concerned that it’s almost impossible for the PM to say I want to move on, as we cannot move on without regaining public trust and I am not sure that’s possible in the current situation.”
Two other Tory MPs, David Simmonds and John Baron, said they had lost confidence in Johnson. A fourth, Angela Richardson, who quit as a parliamentary private secretary earlier in the year, said she would have resigned if she had been in Johnson’s position.
Julian Sturdy, the Conservative MP for York Outer, called on Wednesday for Johnson to go. The report had left him “unable to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt”, he said.
Johnson’s own anti-corruption tsar, John Penrose, also revealed this week that he was still thinking about whether to submit a no-confidence letter.
“There is a great deal of concern about whether or not he’s been telling the truth in parliament,” Penrose said.