Conservative party whips are plotting a fightback to save Boris Johnson’s job as rebel MPs urge him to quit, saying it would be for the good of the British government.
A steady stream of Tories have backed a ballot to decide the Prime Minister’s future, or called for Mr Johnson to step down, in response to an increasingly long list of ‘Partygate’ revelations and the release of the Sue Gray report last week.
Three new names surfaced Monday and a fourth MP – Andrew Bridgen – resubmitted a letter of no confidence he previously withdrew in light of the war in Ukraine.
Now, Tory whips are in talks about how to respond if the letter tally reaches 54, which would force 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady to call a vote, The Daily Telegraph reported.
All Tory MPs will be contacted at once if the threshold is reached, according to one whip, as part of a move to save the PM’s job.
It reported that amid concerns the 54-letter threshold could be reached, other Conservative MPs believed to be critical of the embattled Prime Minister were contacted by whips, despite Parliament being in recess for the Queen’s Jubilee.
Mr Brady has signalled he would not announce the threshold has been hit while Parliament is in recess, which could give the Prime Minister and his allies more time to rally should the total number of submitted letters reach 54 in the coming days.
The plan is not the first hatched by Mr Johnson and his allies to keep him in his role, with the PM launching ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ in January when it was revealed that gatherings at No10 were under investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
Despite Mr Johnson being handed a fixed penalty notice by the police, he has held on to his premiership and resisted calls to resign.
Conservative party whips are plotting a fightback to save Boris Johnson’s job as rebel MPs urge him to quit, saying it would be for the good of the British government
Mr Bridgen emailed his North West Leicestershire constituents on Monday to say he has resubmitted his letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson following ‘further revelations over the past week’, which saw the publication of the long-awaited Sue Gray partygate report.
He originally submitted a letter in January 2022 but withdrew it in March, arguing it was not appropriate to hold a confidence vote amid the fighting in Ukraine.
Earlier, former attorney general Jeremy Wright said events in Downing Street had caused ‘real and lasting damage’ to the Government’s authority and that he had concluded ‘with regret’ that Mr Johnson should go ‘for the good of the government’.
A spokesman for Carshalton and Wallington MP Elliot Colburn, who was elected in 2019, confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
And a fourth Tory MP, Nickie Aiken, suggested Mr Johnson should submit himself to a confidence vote to end the ‘damaging speculation’ over his future.
Meanwhile, No 10 is under renewed pressure to say if Mr Johnson’s wife hosted a second lockdown party in the Downing Street flat on the day of the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
Earlier in the day on June 19 2020, Mr Johnson was present at an impromptu gathering in the Cabinet Room, which led to him being fined by the Metropolitan Police along with his wife and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The Government had already been facing questions over another event in the flat later in the year, on November 13, when Mrs Johnson reportedly held the so-called ‘Abba party’ to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings in the fallout from a bitter No 10 power struggle.
In her report, Ms Gray said she had only gathered ‘limited’ evidence on the event when she had to stop due to the police investigation, and that she did not consider it ‘appropriate or proportionate’ to resume after officers concluded their inquiry.
Mr Bridgen emailed his North West Leicestershire constituents on Monday to say he has resubmitted his letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson
Former Attorney General Jeremy Wright (left) said the PM should go ‘for the good of the government’. Elliot Colburn (right) – who was elected MP for Carshalton and Wallington in 2019 with a small majority over the Lib Dems – was believed to have send a letter a few months ago, but has now gone public
Nickie Aiken, a former vice chair of the Tory party, stopped short of urging the PM to resign but called on the PM to ‘end this speculation’ by calling a confidence vote in his leadership himself
In his email, Mr Bridgen said: ‘I did believe that during the initial stages of the Russia/Ukraine war that it would be wrong to have a leadership contest.
‘There have, however, been further revelations over the past week and there is obviously and rightly still a lot of anger about the culture in No 10 during the lockdown period.
‘I and colleagues have put in a letter of no confidence over the past few days and it may well be the numbers are close to triggering a vote of no confidence.
‘This would give the parliamentary party the opportunity to register whether they believe Boris Johnson is the person to continue leading the party or not.’
In addition, Tory chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, reportedly said he had made his position on the matter ‘clear to those who need to hear it’.
The backbench MP, who previously said he was open to running for the Tory leadership, was quoted as criticising Mr Johnson, but did not appear to call for him to resign.
According to Sky News’ Tom Larkin, he said: ‘The PM put the governance of the UK at risk to a single, severe Covid outbreak. That is to say nothing of the lack of respect it showed for the British people or the Queen.
‘I have made my position clear to those who need to hear it.’
Mr Johnson is still facing unrest among Tory MPs, despite the Sue Gray report stopping short of criticising his personal behaviour and ministers offering staunch support.
However, it is not clear how close the insurrection is to reaching the 54 no-confidence letters needed to trigger a full vote. While 29 have publicly called for the PM to quit, but not all will have sent letters – and others might have done so privately.
Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee, has broad discretion on when to announce the threshold has been hit and has signalled he would not do so when Parliament is in recess.
Tory whips are in talks about how to respond if the letter tally reaches 54, which would force 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady to call a vote, The Daily Telegraph reported
Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee, has broad discretion on when to announce the threshold has been hit and has signalled he would not do so when Parliament is in recess – which it currently is for the Queen’s Jubilee
Meanwhile, No 10 is under renewed pressure to say if Mr Johnson’s wife hosted a second lockdown party in the Downing Street flat on the day of the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday
No10 also denied that details of an alleged Downing Street flat party were removed from Ms Gray’s investigation into coronavirus rule breaking
The Sunday Times reported that the senior civil servant, who on Wednesday delivered her 37-page report into events held in Downing Street and Whitehall during England’s lockdowns, had pressure placed on her by senior members of Boris Johnson’s team to remove certain details and names.
The newspaper said the so-called ‘Abba party’ held in the Prime Minister’s flat on November 13 2020 was ‘tweaked’ by Mr Johnson’s chief-of-staff Steve Barclay on the eve of publication.
It is alleged an earlier draft of Ms Gray’s report referred to music being played and stated at what time the gathering ended, but that the information was redacted.
But No 10 and Cabinet Office sources denied that any edits were made by Mr Barclay, who is also the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
A No 10 source said: ‘It is untrue that anyone on the political side saw anything in advance or sought to influence it.’
The Cabinet Office rejected claims that the report was edited due to pressure or that any events were not investigated because of requests made by senior figures.
They referred back to the wording of the report where Ms Gray explained her rationale for halting her probe into what happened in the flat Mr Johnson shares with his wife Carrie.
Mr Johnson suffered another blow as his ratings dropped into negative territory in the latest ConservativeHome grassroots poll – with a net score of minus 15.
Boris Johnson is the only member of the Cabinet in negative territory in the latest ConservativeHome grassroots poll
Although the survey is not scientific it is tracked by ministers and MPs, and will do little to ease anxiety in No10.
In a long statement on his website, Kenilworth and Southam MP Mr Wright – who also served as culture secretary – said he ‘cannot be sure that the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House of Commons’.
But he added Partygate that had a ‘real and lasting damage to the reputation not just of this Government but to the institutions and authority of Government more generally’.
He said: ‘That matters because it is sadly likely that a Government will again need to ask the citizens of this country to follow rules it will be difficult to comply with and to make sacrifices which will be hard to bear, in order to serve or preserve the greater good. The collective consequences of those citizens declining to do so may again be severe.’
He concluded: ‘It now seems to me that the Prime Minister remaining in office will hinder those crucial objectives. I have therefore, with regret, concluded that, for the good of this and future Governments, the Prime Minister should resign.’
Mr Wright initially caused confusion by deleting his 2,300-word statement, but then re-posted the message.
Mr Colburn – who was elected MP for Carshalton and Wallington in 2019 with a small majority over the Lib Dems – was believed to have send a letter a few months ago, but has now gone public.
In a message to constituents he said nothing had emerged to ‘convince me that my decision to submit a letter to the 1922 committee (which I did some time ago) was the wrong one’.
The PM is still facing unrest among Tory MPs, despite the Sue Gray report stopping short of criticising his personal behaviour and ministers offering staunch support
How could Boris Johnson be ousted by Tory MPs?
What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader?
Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.
How is that triggered?
A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 54 MPs.
Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are.
What happens when the threshold is reached?
A vote is held, with the leader technically only needing to win support from a simple majority of MPs
But in reality, a solid victory is essential for them to stay in post.
What happens if the leader loses?
The leader is sacked if they do not win a majority of votes from MPs, and a leadership contest begins in which they cannot stand.
However, they typically stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected.
A gleeful Lib Dem source said Mr Colburn’s move was down to ‘terror’ of the threat to their jobs.
‘Conservative MPs in the Blue Wall are terrified of losing their seats and are now trying to save their own skins,’ the source said.
‘For months Tory MPs were defending Boris Johnson even when they knew he had broken his own laws.
‘Now that lifelong Conservative voters are switching in their droves to the Lib Dems, finally some Tory MPs have been forced to act.’
Ms Aiken, a former vice chair of the Tory party, stopped short of urging the PM to resign but called on Mr Johnson to ‘end this speculation’ by calling a confidence vote in his leadership himself, bypassing the need for 54 letters to be submitted.
In a letter to her constituents, seen by the Daily Telegraph, the Cities of London and Westminster MP wrote: ‘Sadly, I believe that the events in Downing Street during the pandemic have damaged the Government and the Conservative Party.
‘I know that trust in both has been seriously impaired having received an abundance of correspondence on the subject and having spoken to constituents over recent months.
‘Many people have asked me whether I believe that the Prime Minister should stand down.
‘I fear that the continued reporting and constant speculation will continue to damage both the Government and the Conservative Party.
‘If I were in the same position, I would put myself forward to the Conservative Parliamentary Party for a vote of confidence, end this speculation in order to allow the Government to continue to meet the challenges the country faces, especially the cost of living crisis.’
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter, a former health minister, also criticised Mr Johnson over Partygate today – although he did not reveal whether he would be sending a no confidence letter to Sir Graham.
He told Sky News the PM’s past assurances that no Covid rules were broken in Downing Street ‘lack credibility’ following the publication of Ms Gray’s report.
‘A minister who knowingly misleads Parliament should resign,’ he added.
Former minister Tobias Ellwood, a regular critic of Mr Johnson, complained this morning that his colleagues are ‘in denial’.
He told Sky News: ‘The party is increasingly in a difficult place. This is going to be a testing summer, polling is now saying we could lose 90 seats.
‘And we still seem to be in denial. It’s time to shake off this partisan Stockholm Syndrome, I believe.
‘Our party brand is suffering. We will lose the next election on current trajectory as reflected in recent elections by local elections.’
He added: ‘And when you get the church elders in the party, such as Lord Hague, now expressing huge concern, you know, we need to listen.’
Despite the sniping, ministers have moved to shore up Mr Johnson, dismissing calls for yet another investigation of lockdown-breaching in Whitehall.
In a round of interviews this morning, culture minister Chris Philp said Partygate was the ‘most thoroughly investigated set of incidents in recent times’.
Asked on Sky News about claims Carrie Johnson organised previously unacknowledged parties in the Downing Street flat, Mr Philp said: ‘Well, I think we have had an unbelievably comprehensive set of investigations going on now for a period of nearly six months. We have had obviously the Sue Gray investigation published last week. And she interviewed, goodness knows, dozens or possibly even hundreds of people in the course of her investigation, looked at emails, messages, and everything else.
‘And we have had the Metropolitan Police investigation, which again, has gone over and gone on over a number of months. And they conducted that with full police powers.
‘So, having had two separate investigations, including by the police over many months, it is not immediately obvious to me that we need any more investigations when this has probably been the most… rightly been, the most thoroughly investigated set of incidents in recent times.’
Downing Street refused to deny that a further party took place in the Downing Street flat following Mr Johnson’s birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room.
Asked about the report, a No10 spokesman said Ms Gray had made clear in her terms of reference that she would look at other allegations where there was ‘credible’ claims rules had been breached.
‘I have seen the same reporting that you have but I think this is covered in the terms of reference in Sue Gray’s report where she clearly said that any other gatherings … where she received credible allegations, would be looked into.
‘Downing Street staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information and co-operate fully with the investigation.’
The cross-party Privileges Committee is still due to probe whether Mr Johnson deliberately misled the Commons over Whitehall parties, a process which could take months.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis warned yesterday that a leadership battle is not ‘in anybody’s interests’, insisting the PM can still turn around the polls before the general election.
He also denied anyone tried to influence Sue Gray’s report – and said she would have ignored such efforts anyway.
In a round of interviews this morning, culture minister Chris Philp said Partygate was the ‘most thoroughly investigated set of incidents in recent times’
Rishi Sunak was at the bottom of last month’s ConservativeHome website, but has now been replaced by Mr Johnson
Meanwhile, Michael Gove – who blocked Mr Johnson from becoming PM in 2016 – said he should ‘fight and win’ the next election despite a trickle of Tory MPs withdrawing support.
Mr Gove argued that ‘no one in Government has his energy, his determination, his vision’ as he urged rebels to quieten down.
The interventions came as No10 denied pushing top civil servant Ms Gray to remove details about partying from her verdict last week.
The report painted a damning picture of drunken staff doing karaoke, fighting and vomiting in offices while the rest of the country was under a brutal lockdown.
However, it also avoided personal condemnation of the PM’s behaviour – after police decided he only deserved a single fine for a low-key birthday celebration in the Cabinet Room in June 2020.
Keir Starmer ally suggests he could fight for re-election as leader rather than walking away if he is forced to quit over Beergate row
Keir Starmer could fight for re-election as Labour leader if he is forced to quit over Beergate, according to an ally.
Veteran MP Nick Brown, who served as chief whip under Sir Keir, said he hoped his former boss will be in charge at the next general election even if he gets a fine.
Speaking on BBC Politics North over the weekend, Mr Brown suggested that if he is punished by police Sir Keir could honour his vow to resign on principle, and then simply ask the party to reinstall him in charge.
Both have denied wrongdoing but pledged to stand down if they are handed a Fixed Penalty Notice over an indoor beer and curry with aides during a campaign visit last year.
Sir Keir Starmer was filmed sipping beer at a boozy curry in Durham – an event that is now being investigated by police over alleged Covid rule-breaking
Veteran MP Nick Brown, who served as chief whip under Sir Keir, said he hoped his former boss will be in charge at the next general election even if he gets a fine
Mr Brown, who retired from the front bench in May last year, insisted he does not ‘believe for one moment’ that police will punish Sir Keir.
However, he floated the prospect that even that would not be the end of the story,
Mr Brown said: ‘I agree entirely with Keir. I think he’s done the right thing. I know him pretty well…
‘I don’t believe for one moment the police will find against him.
‘Just for the sake of the argument say they did… if they did Keir would do what he said he would do, would resign.
‘And I would be the first person urging him to seek re-election and to lead us into the next general election.’
Sir Keir could be helped in a bid for survival by the fact that his main rival, Ms Rayner, has also been caught up in the Beergate scandal.
Both have flatly denied that the incident was against the rules. It took place when indoor gatherings were banned, apart from an exception for ‘work purposes’.
The row was fuelled because Labour initially denied that Ms Rayner was present, before admitting she had been.
The astonishing U-turn deepened the Beergate row and led to renewed questions about Labour’s account of the Friday night gathering, which it has always insisted was a ‘work event’.
Sir Keir repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to fall on his sword when he was being investigated for Partygate lockdown breaches, and after he was fined by police over a birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room in June 2020.
The extraordinary possibility emerged as Durham Police continue their probe into the potential lockdown breach by Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner (pictured) last year