Boris Johnson has stood by Dominic Cummings despite mounting calls for the prime minister to sack his top aide for travelling to another home during lockdown.
But while Downing Street has brushed aside concerns raised by members of the public and some newspapers, it is struggling to contain growing fury from within the Conservative Party.
Backbench MPs have begun openly calling for Mr Cummings to resign or be fired, and discontent has spread to ministers – but they are still not going public with their concerns.
A powerful enemy to have on the backbenches, Steve Baker sits on the executive of the 1922 Committee – the body representing all Tory MPs.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We are now in a nonsense position, a pantomime position where it seems if you wish to apply a wide common-sense interpretation to the rules you can do, at least if you work in Number 10.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s got to stop and Dominic should go. If he doesn’t resign, he will just be burning through Boris’s political capital at a rate that we can ill-afford in the midst of this crisis.”
“He could have come out and apologised and said this was a bad mistake and I’m sorry about it and I shouldn’t have done it. And I think he probably would have carried on.
“But to try and pretend he didn’t break the rules just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”
Speaking after Boris Johnson’s full-throated defence of his senior adviser, Simon Hoare told the Daily Mail: “The PM’s performance posed more questions than it answered.
Damian Collins, who found Mr Cummings in contempt of parliament for refusing to appear before the select committee he used to chair, said: “Dominic Cummings has a track record of believing that the rules don’t apply to him and treating the scrutiny that should come to anyone in a position of authority with contempt.
The East Worthing and Shoreham MP says many people “made the choice not to ‘reinterpret’ the lockdown rules” and it is “even more important that they are followed even more relentlessly by those responsible for making and enforcing them”.
He explained: “It is with regret therefore that I have come to the conclusion that the position of Dominic Cummings is untenable as the chief adviser to the Government and he must resign or be removed.
“But his continuing in the role any longer can only undermine the authority of the Prime Minister and the Government at a time when both need to be completely focussed on getting the nation through the next stage of the Coronavirus crisis.
“I am also worried that a number of scientists providing expert advice to the Government have also expressed the concern that their work is at threat of being undermined.
The MP for Colne Valley tweeted: “I fully acknowledge that the perceived hypocrisy of the rule makers potentially threatens the success of any future measures we may need to introduce if there is a second wave of coronavirus here in the UK.
“We must have confidence that we are doing the right things for the right reasons and that we are all truly in it together. For that reason I believe Mr Cummings’ position is now untenable.”
The Veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale, who has served in parliament since 1983, said after the prime minister’s news conference: “I’m very disappointed.
“I think it was an opportunity to put this to bed and I fear that now the story is simply going to run and run.”
Mr Cummings’ position was branded “untenable” by Mr Whittaker, Calder Valley MP, who added: “You cannot advise the nation one thing then do the opposite.”
“It is becoming increasingly clear that Dominic Cummings’ position is no longer tenable,” the York Outer MP tweeted.
“The government need to urgently refocus on our national priorities, namely our efforts to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.”
A former Cabinet minister, Caroline Nokes said: “I made my views clear to my whip yesterday. There cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others.
“My inbox is rammed with very angry constituents and I do not blame them. They have made difficult sacrifices over the course of the last nine weeks.”
The Poole MP tweeted: “The government has to explain test, track and trace and the next phase of lifting lockdown next week.
“Whatever the merits of a government adviser, they should never be the story or it detracts from the central message which is to get us out of this crisis. The adviser should go.”
Former minister Paul Maynard said: “It is a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up.
The Cleethorpes MP said Mr Cummings’ “actions do undermine the message, which was very clear that people should stay at home”.
“I’m afraid Mr Cummings has let the government and Mr Johnson down in that respect.” he told Sky News. “He should have done the decent thing and stood down.”
The Waveney MP since 2010 said his view had originally been sympathetic to Mr Cummings, but he has since revised his opinion.
He tweeted: “The government should recognise what families have gone through and what people are thinking and saying. It is thus important that Dominic Cummings should now stand down.”
Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton said Mr Cummings was “damaging the Government and the country that he’s supposed to be serving”.
He said his own father had died alone as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, adding: “People have made sacrifices, this is a difficult time, this is a time of national crisis.”
The MP for Beckenham said of Mr Cummings: “He certainly destroyed the spirit of the ruled by what he did.
“It will make it very difficult for us, the rest of the population, to accept the largely voluntary restraints we have lived under for nine weeks.
“I apologise for that because those rules remain in place and we should all still abide by them. I am afraid I believe his position is thus untenable.”
Sky News has also spoken to three other MPs – James Gray, Robert Goodwill and Andrew Jones – who confirmed they want Mr Cummings gone.
And Sky News understands up to 20 MPs from the so-called “red wall” that fell for the first time from Labour to the Conservatives at the 2019 election are pushing for an inquiry into Mr Cummings’s conduct.
© 2020 Sky UK
World news – ZA – Coronavirus: Which Tory MPs are calling for Dominic Cummings to go and why?