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Johnson hints at tax cuts and warns against infighting as Tories decide his fate

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Tory MPs are voting on Boris Johnson’s future, after he warned that “pointless” internal warfare could see them turfed out of office.

The Prime Minister promised future tax cuts and highlighted his own record of electoral success as he sought to win over wavering MPs before voting began at 6pm.

MPs have until 8pm to cast their ballots, with the result of the vote on Mr Johnson’s position announced at 9pm.

The ballot was triggered after at least 54 MPs – 15% of the party’s representatives in the Commons – said they had no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson wrote to Tory MPs and addressed them at a private meeting in Westminster before voting began.

He told them that “under my leadership” the party had won its biggest electoral victory in 40 years, and pledged future tax cuts, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak expected to say more in the coming weeks.

He warned them that Tory splits risked the “utter disaster” of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour entering Downing Street, propped up by the SNP.

“The only way we will let that happen is if we were so foolish as to descend into some pointless fratricidal debate about the future of our party,” he said.

Boris Johnson graphic
(PA Graphics)

He told MPs “I understand the anxieties of people who have triggered this vote” but “I humbly submit to you that this is not the moment for a leisurely and entirely unforced domestic political drama and months and months of vacillation from the UK”.

In an attempt to win round Tories concerned about his economic plans, Mr Johnson said: “Everyone understands the fiscal impact of Covid, the cost of clearing the backlogs, but the way out now is to drive supply side reform on Conservative principles and to cut taxes.”

The Prime Minister took five questions during the meeting, two of which were “hostile” and three of which were not, a senior party source said.

Tory former chief whip Mark Harper said that if the PM stayed in post he would be asking MPs to “defend the indefensible”.

Giving an account of questions asked of the Prime Minister in a meeting of the 1922 Committee,  the source said Mr Johnson rejected this “very, very aggressively”.

Emerging from the meeting, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said Mr Johnson’s address had been “light on jokes”, with the Prime Minister in “serious mode”.

He said he expected the Prime Minister to win, as the alternative was a “protracted period of introspection”.

The Prime Minister was informed on Sunday that he would face the vote.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, confirmed he had received the letters from Conservative MPs needed to trigger the vote on Sunday, with a “clear indication” that there would be more to come following the conclusion of the Platinum Jubilee festivities.

A steady stream of Tory MPs called publicly for the Prime Minister to stand down in the wake of Sue Gray’s report into breaches of the Covid regulations in No 10 and Whitehall.

But Tory concerns go far wider, covering the Prime Minister’s policies, which have seen the tax burden reach the highest in 70 years, and concerns about his approach to ethics and cultural issues.

In order to oust the Prime Minister, however, the rebels will need 180 MPs, and allies of Mr Johnson made clear he is determined to fight to stay on.

A succession of Cabinet ministers appeared on TV to voice support for the Prime Minister, while Government colleagues and backbenchers also went on social media as part of a co-ordinated operation to bolster Mr Johnson’s position.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said victory by a single vote would secure Mr Johnson’s job.

“One is enough, it’s no good saying that the rules of the party say something and then behind it unofficially there is some other rule that nobody knows and is invented for the purpose,” he told Sky News.

Opinion poll tracker
(PA Graphics)

“I obviously want the Prime Minister to get as big a majority as possible, I think that would be helpful and it would close this matter down between now and the next general election, which would be good for the country, good for the Conservative Party, but one is enough.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said winning the vote “is victory” even if by a single vote.

“We live in a democracy and it’s absolutely right that a democratic decision is what we respect,” he said.

Attorney General Suella Braverman said “technically, yes” a single vote win would be enough for Mr Johnson to continue, but “I’m sure that he will win with a larger margin than that”.

But in reality a major revolt would leave him damaged, perhaps fatally so, particularly with two by-elections on June 23 which could see further blows delivered to his leadership.

A letter written by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Tory MPs
A letter written by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Tory MPs (10 Downing Street/PA)

Mr Johnson has already received the resignation of his anti-corruption tsar, John Penrose, who said the Prime Minister had breached the ministerial code over the partygate scandal and should quit.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he would be voting against Mr Johnson, having heard “loud and clear the anger at the breaking of Covid rules” and “even more so at the statements to Parliament from the Prime Minister on this topic”.

In a further indication of the anger felt on the Tory benches, former minister Jesse Norman, who had been a long-standing supporter of Mr Johnson, published a scathing letter to the Prime Minister withdrawing his support.

Mr Norman said the Gray report showed Mr Johnson “presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street” and “to describe yourself as ‘vindicated’ by the report is grotesque”.

But his criticism of Mr Johnson was far broader, including the “ugly” policy of sending migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda, the “unnecessary and provocative” privatisation of Channel 4, the ban on noisy protests which “no genuinely Conservative government” should have introduced, and the lack of a “sense of mission” in his administration.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who stood against Mr Johnson for the leadership in 2019, warned that the Tories would lose the next general election if the Prime Minister is allowed to remain in post.

“Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve,” he said.

But Cabinet ministers rallied round Mr Johnson – including those who could seek to replace him if he is forced out.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The Prime Minister has my 100% backing in today’s vote and I strongly encourage colleagues to support him.”

Mr Sunak said “the PM has shown the strong leadership our country needs”.

Mr Johnson spoke to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday as aides said he was carrying on with the job without being distracted by Tory infighting.

However, in a break from the usual protocol, Mr Johnson did not appear in Downing Street, where he would have faced a barrage of press questions, for the visit of his Estonian counterpart Kaja Kallas.

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