Boris Johnson in 11th hour plea to MPs ahead of no-confidence vote

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·5-min read
Boris Johnson in 11th hour plea to MPs ahead of no-confidence vote
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Boris Johnson issued an eleventh-hour appeal to Tory MPs to back him in a crunch vote on his leadership on Monday night.

The Prime Minister wrote to Conservative parliamentarians as he battled to stay in No10 after at least 54 demanded a vote on his leadership. He called for the backing of MPs so he could “draw a line” under the partygate scandal which has rocked the Government and take forward the Conservatives as “one united party”.

But he suffered a major blow shortly before 11am when former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a contender to take over from Mr Johnson if he is toppled, broke cover to say that he would be voting “for change”.

He argued that the current Government was “not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country”.

Mr Johnson sent his letter to MPs shortly after Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Conservative committee of backbench MPs, announced shortly after 8am that more than 15 per cent of them had sent in letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister, triggering the vote between 6pm and 8pm tonight.

At the start of a day of drama at Westminster, Sir Graham said: “I notified the PM yesterday that the threshold had been reached and agreed the timetable for the confidence vote to take place. He shared my view, which is also in line with the rules we have in place, that the vote should happen as soon as can reasonably take place.

“A confidence vote will provide a clear answer whether the party has confidence in the leadership or not…that’s the question that will be before my colleagues today.”

He also confirmed that a number of Tory MPs had sent in “post-dated” letters of no confidence to take effect after the ending of the long bank holiday weekend, as they did not want the political turmoil to impact on the jubilee celebrations.

Responding to the announcement, Mr Johnson wrote to his party’s MPs, appealing for their backing. “Tonight we have the chance to end weeks of media speculation and take this country forward, immediately, as one united party,” he said.

“Tonight is the moment to draw a line under the issues our opponents want us to talk about — and to focus instead on what really matters: the needs of the voters who sent us to Westminster.”

But a few hours later, Mr Hunt argued that the Conservatives were set to lose the next general election if they stick with Mr Johnson.

He tweeted: “Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve. We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country.

“Anyone who believes our country is stronger, fairer & more prosperous when led by Conservatives should reflect that the consequence of not changing will be to hand the country to others who do not share those values. Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change.”

Mr Johnson’s anti-corruption tsar John Penrose, MP for Weston-Super-Mare, resigned and announced he will vote no confidence in the PM’s leadership in the ballot.

He said Mr Johnson’s actions over the partygate scandal constituted a “fundamental breach of the ministerial code”.

However, Cabinet and other ministers lined up to support the Prime Minister including Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg who tweeted: “The time for navel-gazing has ended. The British people gave Boris a mandate. Tory MPs would be wise to accept it.” If Mr Johnson gains a majority in the vote, 180 MPs backing him out of 359, he can continue as Prime Minister.

However, he could struggle to stay in No10 if there is a major revolt of more than 100 Tory MPs, even if he gets a majority. Some Tory MPs believe a key tipping point could be 120 to 130 rebels.

Tory polling expert Lord Hayward told Sky News. “Prime Ministers don’t survive once they go into votes of confidence…it’s corrosive in itself.”

Mr Johnson was due to address the meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs at 4pm today. Supporters of Mr Johnson hope the size of the Government ministerial payroll will help him win enough backing to stay in Downing Street.

According to the respected think tank the Institute for Government, the current payroll is between 160 and 170 MPs. This includes 95 ministers, 47 parliamentary private secretaries and 20 trade envoys.

Following Sir Graham’s announcement, allies and ministers rushed to back the Prime Minister, unleashing a wave of supportive tweets ahead of the vote this evening. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “I’ll be voting for Boris this evening. The PM got the big decisions right on Brexit and Covid.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tweeted: “In 2019 Boris won with a majority of 80. He has delivered victories in seats we have never held before. On Covid, on Ukraine he has helped deliver a world-leading response. He has my full confidence.”

However, Mr Johnson has faced a drip-drip of Tory MPs coming out against him in recent days including in London Sir Bob Neill, Stephen Hammond and David Simmonds.

Early this morning, Jesse Norman, a former Treasury minister, said he could no longer back the Prime Minister. “I have supported Boris Johnson for 15 years, for the London Mayoralty and for PM,” he said. “Very sadly, I have written to him to say I can no longer do so.”

Mr Norman said Mr Johnson’s current policy priorities were “deeply questionable” and the Government’s Rwanda policy on immigration was “ugly, likely to be counterproductive and of doubtful legality”. Speculation was swirling that key Brexiteers would also not back him in the vote this evening.

Knives were out among some Tory MPs for the No10 political operation and whips over the apparent lack of moves to defend the PM. One loyal MP told The Standard: “It would take an act of supreme incompetence from the PM’s team to lose this. However, No10 are supremely incompetent.”

The vote on the PM comes after he was fined for breaching lockdown rules — along with his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak — for attending a “surprise” birthday party in the Cabinet room in June 2020.

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