Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a week of reckoning as a report into Downing Street parties during lockdown is due to be released.
The partygate inquiry, which is being carried out by civil servant Sue Gray, could determine Mr Johnson’s fate as the country’s prime minister.
Many Tory MPs have said they will wait to see the investigation’s findings before making a decision on whether to push for a vote of no confidence, which could see him forced out of Number 10.
However, some rebel MPs have indicated they will submit letters of no confidence to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, whatever the report finds.
Under party rules, once the total number of letters reaches 54 – 15% of Tory MPs – Sir Graham must call a vote of confidence in the leader.
Ms Gray’s findings are not expected to be released on Monday but could come out any day this week.
Allies of Mr Johnson say there have been efforts to bolster his defences and protect his position ahead of the report’s publication.
They believe there may still be a way through, providing Ms Gray does not explicitly state the prime minister was aware of any rule-breaking going on in Downing Street.
“There are still a few sharks in the water that we need to navigate… but the immediate danger has receded,” one ally told Sky News.
The prime minister has spent the last two days at Chequers, his countryside retreat, calling MPs to try and shore up support.
Downing Street has already said he will come to the Commons after Ms Gray’s report is published and take questions from members of parliament.
The report may also lead to renewed calls for the Metropolitan Police to open a criminal investigation if there is clear evidence that COVID restrictions were breached.
Among the events Ms Gray has been investigating is a “bring your own booze” do in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown.
The PM has admitted he attended but said he thought it was a “work event” – an explanation that was met with widespread criticism.
Dominic Cummings – Mr Johnson’s former top adviser – is set to be interviewed by Ms Gray today, according to reports.
An unnamed source told The Daily Telegraph that Met officers have also provided “a lot of information” to Ms Gray.
When asked when significant this material was, they added: “Put it this way, if Boris Johnson is still prime minister by the end of the week, I’d be very surprised.”
Reorganisation and numerous sackings
Meanwhile, there are reports that a reorganisation may take place within Number 10, with the potential for numerous sackings among key staff, after the report has been published.
Cabinet ministers and senior Conservatives say that a culture change will be needed within Downing Street whatever happens.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox told Sky News: “Clearly there have to be changes in Number 10, whether or not the prime minister is implicated in what happened during the lockdown.
“And it is clear that we need a better relationship between Number 10 and the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and the whips’ office.
“It needs to be working much better than it has been doing.”
Investigation launched over Nusrat Ghani’s claims
In other developments, a Cabinet Office investigation has been launched into claims from a Conservative MP that she was sacked as a minister because of her Muslim faith.
Nusrat Ghani was sacked as transport minister in a February 2020 reshuffle.
Ms Ghani said she was told by a whip, who she did not identify, that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting in Downing Street.
Chief whip Mark Spencer has said he was the whip in question but has described her allegations as “completely false”.
Downing Street has confirmed that Boris Johnson has asked the Cabinet Office to carry out an inquiry into the allegations.