The Conservative Scottish Secretary dug in with a loyal defence of under-fire Boris Johnson, suggesting excuses for some of the parties under investigation by police and civil servant Sue Gray.
Alister Jack said the PM could not be blamed for the No10 staff parties and added: “When the cat’s away, the mice were playing.”
The Tory MP claimed his boss was “furious” when he found out about two gatherings which took place before the Duke of Edinburgh was laid to rest.
Mr Jack’s attempt to shield the Tory leader from criticism came despite Sue Gray’s report confirming police are probing 12 parties held while Covid restrictions are in place.
He was away for three days. When the cat’s away, the mice were playing.
– Alister Jack defends the prime minister.
Events being investigated include the May 2020 Downing Street garden party, a birthday bash for the PM, and an event in his flat on the night Dominic Cummings quit.
In a short version of her report, Sue Gray blasted “serious failures” of leadership.
The civil servant said Boris Johnson and Westminster staff didn’t meet the “high standards” expected of the public while the nation was in lockdown.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday morning, Mr Jack said: “I was particularly upset about the two on the eve of the Duke’s funeral.
“But he knew nothing of them, he wasn’t there, he was 60 miles away, he was away for three days. When the cat’s away, the mice were playing.”
Mr Jack defended Douglas Ross and said he is also doing an “excellent” job despite the Holyrood Tory leader urging the prime minister to quit.
The south of Scotland MP refused to be drawn on whether Mr Johnson broke lockdown rules at the party being investigated in his own flat when Mr Cummings left his role.
The Tory loyalist claimed the event could have possibly been a “strategy meeting” if the Conservative leader was there.
He also dismissed reports tunes were blaring from the private flat during a party by saying it could have simply been “someone enjoying loud music”.
Mr Jack added that the prime minister was “very apologetic” for the parties that unfolded and claimed his statement in the House of Commons was “sincere”.
He said: “I work closely with the Prime Minister. I know he is contrite about what happened.
“I maintain the Prime Minister’s apology is absolutely genuine. He is very angry about the way things unfolded as he learned more and more about things that happened in his office.”
Addressing MPs, Mr Johnson said: “I am sorry for the things that we simply didn’t get right, and for the way this matter has been handled. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and we must learn.
“I, of course, accept Sue Gray’s general findings in full, and above all her recommendation that we must learn from these events and act now.”
But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the prime minister was “totally unworthy” of his position.
He urged backbench Tory MPs to remove their leader from office and accused his rival of “hiding” behind the police investigation.