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Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has denied the weekend reports that the prime minister was unrolling new, dramatic strategies to save himself.
Boris Johnson faced his toughest few days in the job yet as further allegations of No.10 parties emerged last week, increasing the calls for him to resign.
Newspapers have claimed that he is now focusing on “Operation Save Big Dog” – where other Downing Street officials will quit so Johnson does not have to – and “Operation Red Meat” – where the government will push forward proposals on contentious issues like the BBC license fee to appease backbench Tories.
However, speaking on Monday to BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker, the education secretary denied that any such plans exist.
Walker asked: “Is what you’re telling us this morning part of, ‘Operation save Big Dog’?”
Zahawi replied: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.
“Government doesn’t operate like that.”
Instead, he said it was all part of the general “levelling up” programme.
Addressing the range of proposals which were suddenly promoted this weekend, including sending the Royal Navy in to deter refugees arriving on the English coast, Zahawi claimed: “That doesn’t happen overnight.
“You can’t just conjure up those things on a weekend. All that work takes weeks and months to deliver.”
Walker pointed out: “It’s interesting that you completely deny that there’s an ‘Operation save Big Dog’ and then you talk us through exactly the things that are apparently on this list to try and save the ‘big dog’.”
“But Dan, they’re on the list because these are the government’s manifestos, these are the priorities.
“They’re not on the list because we made them up this weekend,” the minister insisted.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi - who lost his uncle to COVID-19 and could not hold a proper burial for him due to lockdown restrictions - says the PM "understands the level of hurt in the UK".#KayBurley: https://t.co/2laB90Bvrc
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 + YouTube pic.twitter.com/1mxz85UyRu
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 17, 2022
The minister’s uncle died of Covid and they were unable to hold a proper burial for him due to lockdown rules in place at the time.
Still, Zahawi claimed the prime minister “absolutely” understood that all the anger and hurt felt by the public over the scandal.
The minister was also keen to point out that Johnson has now pledged to come back to parliament when senior civil servant Sue Gray unveils the findings of her investigation, and allow himself to be scrutinised by MPs.
He went on to defend the prime minister’s claim that he “implicitly” believed it was a work event and deflected Sky News’ Kay Burley’s call for Johnson to put himself forward for a vote of no confidence by claiming that’s not the usual course of action for PMs.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.