A Cabinet minister has dismissed suggestions that there is a concerted effort to save the Prime Minister from censure over the partygate scandal.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he does not recognise “that language about red meat or big dogs” after it was reported that “populist” policies are to be pushed by the Government in a bid to allow Boris Johnson to survive the furore.

But reports have suggested that, under a move dubbed “Operation: Save Big Dog”, Mr Johnson will overhaul his top team and focus on “red meat” policies, including putting the military in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.”

He added: “Government doesn’t operate like that.”

However, over the weekend, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”, reopening the debate over the corporation’s future.

And newspapers reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel is set to announce within weeks that the Navy will be brought in to spearhead controversial “pushback” tactics to turn away boats carrying migrants across the Channel.

Other touted policy announcements as part of Mr Johnson’s attempted fightback include attempts to reduce the NHS backlog and a push on the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper.

But Mr Zahawi said the policies are “on the list because these are the Government’s manifesto”.

Sunday Morning
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the policies are ‘on the list because these are the Government’s manifesto’ (Ian West/PA)

Speaking on Sky News, he said it would be a “good idea” to have a “single command and control” to tackle Channel crossings.

“And that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels, including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats,” he said.

He said the Government wants to “go after the illegal smugglers who are putting these people’s lives at risk”.

But when told those are not the ones on the boats, he added: “Well, they’re the ones we want.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Let’s not pretend that this is anything other than it is, which is a pretty obvious dead cat strategy from the Government to distract from the totally disastrous leadership context that the Prime Minister is facing at the moment.”

Mr Zahawi insisted Mr Johnson will stay in post after further allegations of parties emerged.

Asked three times on Today whether the Prime Minister is safe, he said: “Yes, he is, because he’s human and we make mistakes.

“And, actually, he came to the despatch box and apologised and said he will absolutely submit himself to Parliament, because that’s our parliamentary democracy.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to have been questioned by senior official Sue Gray (Victoria Jones/PA)

It comes as the Mirror said Mr Johnson attended a leaving do before Christmas 2020 during which he gave a speech to mark the departure of his defence adviser, Captain Steve Higham.

The claim is the latest in a long line of allegations about rule-breaking in Downing Street, with senior official Sue Gray looking into a litany of possible events, including a “bring your own booze” garden party during the first coronavirus lockdown that Mr Johnson has admitted he attended – although he insists he understood it to be a “work event”.

Reports suggested Mr Johnson had now been questioned by Ms Gray.

And Mr Zahawi said she must be allowed to carry out her inquiry into reports of coronavirus restriction-breaching events in Westminster after the Prime Minister had “submitted himself to that investigation”.

Mr Zahawi said he shares the anger of the public over the issue, adding: “I can absolutely say to you that the Prime Minister feels the pain.”

He said: “All I would say is we have to allow the investigation to take place. Why? Because that’s the fair thing to do – you don’t condemn a man without a thorough investigation.”

Six Tory MPs have now publicly called for Mr Johnson to resign due to the saga.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) became the latest on Saturday, citing the “terminal damage” the revelations have done to his reputation.

Others, such as former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said it is for Ms Gray to determine what Mr Johnson knew about possible lockdown breaches in No 10, while newer MPs suggested the affair raises questions about the “moral authority” at the top of Government.

West Dorset MP Chris Loder, who was elected in 2019, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation until I’ve seen the facts, but then real action is required, and then we shall go from there.”

Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said he will wait to read the conclusions of the investigation but admitted there is “a lot of ill-feeling out there and discomfort” on the Tory benches.

For a Tory leadership contest to be triggered, 54 letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson have to be submitted by MPs to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, asking for a vote on his future.

Sir Graham does not publicly state how many letters he has received, but reports suggest about 20 might have been handed in.