LONDON — Awaiting a report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street that could force his resignation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on the defensive Wednesday over another issue — whether he authorized the evacuation of cats and dogs from Afghanistan.
Mr. Johnson is approaching a critical moment for his leadership as he prepares to publish findings from an internal inquiry conducted by a civil servant, Sue Gray, into a string of gatherings held in Downing Street while Britons were subject to strict coronavirus rules.
On Wednesday in Parliament, Mr. Johnson rejected calls for him to quit, insisting that he was “getting on with the job.”
But the prime minister also came under attack after an email was made public suggesting that he falsely denied his role in the rescue of cats and dogs from Afghanistan by a British animal charity last year as Kabul fell to the Taliban.
Mr. Johnson has dismissed as “nonsense” claims that he intervened in the evacuation of the Nowzad animal charity, run by Pen Farthing, a former member of the British military, and had prioritized the safety of cats and dogs over that of people.
Those denials appeared to be contradicted by a message from a British diplomat made public on Wednesday by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
The email, written by an official working for Zac Goldsmith, a minister and close ally of Mr. Johnson, said that the animal rescue charity “had received a lot of publicity” and noted that the prime minister “has just authorized their staff and animals to be evacuated.”
John Healey, who speaks for the opposition Labour Party on defense issues, said on Wednesday that “once again, the prime minister has been caught out lying about what he has been doing and deciding.”
“He should never have given priority to flying animals out of Afghanistan while Afghans who worked for our armed forces were left behind,” Mr. Healey added in a statement.
The latest blow to Mr. Johnson came on a second day of confusion over the timing of the publication of Ms. Gray’s report.
Her findings will be submitted first to Downing Street before they are released to the public. Mr. Johnson has promised to then make a statement to Parliament, and many Conservative lawmakers are waiting for that before they decide whether to try to oust the prime minister.
A total of 54 of them would need to send letters to a senior colleague to trigger a no-confidence vote in the prime minister.
Ominously for Mr. Johnson, the Metropolitan Police on Tuesday announced that they would now investigate possible breaches of the law in Downing Street based on information shared by Ms. Gray.
Understand Boris Johnson’s Recent Troubles
Turmoil at Downing Street. A steady drip of disclosures about parties that violated lockdown rules has ensnared Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain in a scandal that could threaten his hold on power. Here is what to know:
Contentious gatherings. The British news media reported that staff members were invited to a party in the backyard of Mr. Johnson’s residence in May 2020, when officials were instructing people not to socialize to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Subsequently, details about other gatherings involving government officials that violated Covid rules have emerged.
Investigations. A senior civil servant is investigating the matter internally. Mr. Johnson faces questions about whether he broke lockdown rules and misled Parliament about his knowledge of parties at Downing Street that breached Covid rules. The British police are also conducting an investigation into parties held at government offices.
Mr. Johnson’s response. After public backlash, Mr. Johnson issued a contrite apology for attending the party in his backyard, while claiming that he had viewed the gathering as a work event that did not breach the rules. He also apologized for parties held at Downing Street as the queen prepared to bury her husband.
What’s at stake. The crisis has stoked speculations that the political future of Mr. Johnson might be at risk. Though few Conservatives in Parliament have publicly called on him to quit, if the investigation determines that he misled Parliament, it could cost him his job.
Her report is expected this week, but Downing Street said Wednesday that it wanted reassurances that none of its contents would compromise the police inquiry when it is made public.The launch of the police investigation suggested that Ms. Gray had uncovered enough to make the report difficult reading for Mr. Johnson and for some of the civil servants who work for him.
The peril is particularly acute for the prime minister because he is accused of misleading Parliament over what he knew about gatherings in Downing Street, something that is normally regarded as a resignation matter.
Mr. Johnson initially insisted that all the coronavirus rules were followed, but, after a leak, he later admitted that he attended one event in his garden during lockdown to which around 100 people were invited to “bring their own booze.”
Mr. Johnson apologized over the incident, which took place in May 2020, but said he thought he was attending a work event.
Later revelations included one that, while Mr. Johnson was away, staff used a suitcase to bring in alcohol for a party into Downing Street on the evening before the funeral of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. At that event a disco was set up in the basement and the swing of Mr. Johnson’s toddler son was broken as staff drank into the early hours, according to media reports.
More bad news for Mr. Johnson emerged earlier this week when ITV News reported that as many as 30 people ate cake in the Cabinet Room to celebrate Mr. Johnson’s birthday in June 2020.
However supporters have rallied behind Mr. Johnson with some dismissing the birthday gathering as trivial. “He was, in a sense, ambushed with a cake,” said Conor Burns, a minister and ally of Mr. Johnson.