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Boris Johnson has promised to cut taxes and drive down the cost of government after a wounding revolt by Tory MPs put his long-term future in doubt.
The Prime Minister thanked Cabinet colleagues for their efforts to support him during the confidence vote process, which saw more than four in 10 Tory MPs say they had lost faith in his leadership.
In an attempt to address criticism of his economic policies, Mr Johnson said the “fundamental Conservative instinct” was to allow people to decide how to spend their money, urging Cabinet ministers to cut costs.
He said “delivering tax cuts” would help deliver “considerable growth in employment and economic progress”.
Despite Mr Johnson’s attempts to draw a line under questions about his leadership, critics warned that the political crisis was not over after 41% of his MPs said they no longer had confidence in him.
Tory MPs voted by 211 to 148 in support of the Prime Minister, but the scale of the opposition was greater than that seen in 2018 when Theresa May faced a confidence vote.
She was ultimately forced out within months.
Opening a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: “We are able now to draw a line under the issues that our opponents want to talk about.”
That included focusing on his “levelling up” agenda to address regional inequality, measures to help deal with the rising cost of living and improvements to public services.
But he asked ministers to “make sure that you’re thinking the whole time about cutting the costs of government, about cutting the costs that business has to face and of course cutting the costs that everybody else faces, families up and down the country”.
Reforms to regulations could help cut costs in areas such as energy, transport or housing, Mr Johnson said, telling ministers “there is ample scope for us to get out of people’s way and to do things better”.
He told ministers: “Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to ask everybody to come forward with ways in which we cut costs, drive reform, and make sure that we understand that in the end it is people who have the best feel for how to spend their own money rather than the government or the state. And that is our fundamental, Conservative instinct.”
Allies have rallied round Mr Johnson, but former Tory leader Lord Hague said “the damage done to his premiership is severe” and he should quit rather than prolong the agony.
Mr Johnson’s authority faces further blows with tricky by-elections on June 23 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.
But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab sought to play down the impact of potential losses in the two Tory-held seats, claiming “governments of the day often lose by-elections to go on to win them at a general election”.
Lord Hague, writing in The Times, said he would have regarded a situation where more than a third of MPs voted against his leadership as “untenable”.
“If, with all the power of the party leadership, all the years of acquaintance with MPs, all the knowledge they have of your abilities and plans, you still cannot crush a vote of no confidence by a commanding margin, then not only is the writing on the wall but it is chiselled in stone and will not wash away,” he said.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, a prominent critic of the Prime Minister, said: “Lord Hague is right. The residual concerns from across the party will continue to remain.”
He said Mr Johnson “should now leave with honour and residual affection for what he has achieved”.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee and another Tory MP who has called for Mr Johnson to quit, suggested the Prime Minister would only survive for “a matter of months”.
Former minister Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow, told BBC Radio Shropshire he had voted for “a new vision for the party and a new degree of competence at the heart of government”.
“It’s not going to happen for now, but we’ll have to see what happens in the coming weeks and months. This is not over.”
Former Brexit minister Lord Frost called for previously announced rises to National Insurance and corporation tax to be reversed.
“It is not Conservative to be raising taxes, and it is undermining growth and prosperity,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
“We need to improve productivity and investment, and not weaken it.”
The Liberal Democrats are pushing for a Commons confidence vote in the Prime Minister as a whole after Mr Johnson survived the Tory process, although there is no date fixed for the move and it is unlikely to be successful.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Every Conservative MP who has a shred of decency must back our motion and finally give Johnson the sack.”
Meanwhile, MPs backed a non-binding Labour motion calling on the Government to implement a sleaze watchdog’s recommendations to improve standards in Westminster.
The recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life include giving Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser Lord Geidt the power to launch his own investigations into breaches of the ministerial code.
Under the current code, Lord Geidt needs Mr Johnson’s consent before he can initiate investigations into possible breaches.