‘A Question of When, Not Whether’: Tory MPs Reportedly Plotting BoJo’s Demise in ‘Pork Pie Putsch’
06:25 GMT 19.01.2022 (Updated: 06:55 GMT 19.01.2022)
© AP Photo / Ben StansallBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson eats a portion of pie aboard the Conservative Party campaign bus after a visit to the Red Olive catering company in Derby, central England Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019.
© AP Photo / Ben Stansall
To address the allegations pitted against him as part of the “partygate” row, Boris Johnson gave a Sky News interview on Tuesday where he insisted he did not lie to parliament over Downing Street parties and, specifically, the 20 May 2020 gathering at No 10, which he again claimed he believed to be a “work event”.
Conservative MPs are plotting Boris Johnson’s demise, openly discussing how to oust the party leader and who his successor should be, reported the Guardian.
Tories from a broad spectrum of party ranks and wings believe that once senior civil servant Sue Gray completes her investigation into more than 15 allegedly lockdown-breaching parties at Downing Street and other government departments during the 2020 pandemic restrictions, enough letters will have been sent to the head of the backbench 1992 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, to trigger a leadership contest.
17 January, 14:38 GMT
Some reports on Tuesday night appeared to indicate this might happen before the publication of the report, anticipated no sooner than next week. Approximately a dozen or so MPs from the 2019 parliamentary elections intake had reportedly met in the office of Alicia Kearns, Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton constituencies, to brainstorm over what has been dubbed the “pork pie putsch”, after the famed Melton Mowbray pork pie.
About 20 letters of no confidence in the PM, “some sent, some in draft”, were cited by one MP who spoke after the meeting. 54 letters need to be submitted to the committee to trigger a confidence ballot against the Prime Minister. It is also reported that over 100 Tory MPs gathered for a dinner at the Carlton Club, the Conservative Party stomping ground, to talk about Johnson’s odds of surviving.
‘In Real Trouble’
No confidence letters are being penned across the broad spectrum of Tories, according to sources cited by The Guardian, ranging from Brexiters to Remainers, as people realize “that there’s not a policy issue; this is a mindset, a modus operandi and culture that needs changing.”
“The mood has turned dramatically. He’s in real trouble. And it’s not just the 2019ers panicking about their seats. It’s quieter older colleagues. Unless the report says something staggeringly good, we will have a challenge,” a frontbench MP was cited as saying.
"We're certainly nearly there," another Tory MP elected in 2019 was quoted by Sky News as saying. A senior Conservative MP added:
"It's very worrying. Support for him is haemorrhaging away. Graham just smiled when I asked him how many letters he had," in a reference to Sir Graham Brady.
Tory MPs have been describing a torrent of anger and indignation coming from their constituencies. According to one MP, “demotivated” activists were refusing to deliver leaflets for the forthcoming local elections. Another Tory added that the situation for Boris Johnson was “terminal”, saying:
“It’s turned from red hot anger to [a] cold, calculating sense of ‘How do we do this? And who are we supporting?’ … It’s a question of when, not whether.”
This comes as Christian Wakeford, Tory MP for Bury South and one of the “Red Wall” parliamentarians brought in by Boris Johnson’s 2019 general election triumph, became the seventh Tory to reveal he had already submitted a no confidence letter.
18 January, 10:46 GMT
Earlier, calls for the PM’s resignation were openly made by senior Tory and Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen, and Sir Roger Gale. Wakeford was cited as saying there are other MP’s who “have written the letters but haven’t sent them in yet”.
Some rebels purportedly urged their colleagues not to submit no confidence letters to the 1922 Committee before Sue Gray’s report, arguing that Boris Johnson could win a vote held too early. However, another Tory MP was quoted as claiming that Johnson “will not win a vote of no confidence as there is no incentive to support him”. He added:
“It’s a disaster if it’s triggered before the report comes out, it will be held immediately and then people will not want to be judge before the evidence is finalised.”
Potential Leadership Challenge
Meanwhile, parliament is said to be reverberating with discussions of who could spearhead a Tory leadership challenge, with potential frontrunners believed to be Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi and Minister of State at the Department for International Trade Penny Mordaunt.
Other possible candidates are believed to be Mark Harper, Steve Baker and Esther McVey.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who had been following guidance to self-isolate for seven days after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19 made an effort to fend off the barrage of fresh claims made by his one-time aid, Dominic Cummings.
The ex-No 10 guru accused Johnson earlier of lying to parliament about the “bring your own booze” party organised by his principal private secretary (PPS), Martin Reynolds, on 20 May 2020 on Downing Street during the first lockdown.
The PM had insisted in the Commons that he had “believed implicitly” that the gathering was a “work event”.
However, Cummings wrote in his blog on his Substack page that, "PM was told about the invite, he knew it was a drinks party.” The former adviser claimed two officials warned the PM against holding the get-together.
During his interview for Sky News, Boris Johnson doubled down on those assertions. He insisted “no one warned” him that that the 20 May 2020 party he attended alongside 30-40 staff was against the rules. He also confirmed he had given his account of events to Sue Gray.
“I can’t believe we would have gone ahead with an event that people said was against the rules … nobody warned me it was against the rules, I am categorical about that – I would have remembered that,” he told Sky News.
In his interview, Johnson refused several times to rule out resigning and some Tory MPs believe he could agree to step down rather than go through a confidence ballot of the parliamentary party.
It is believed that Dominic Cummings will also be questioned as part of the ongoing inquiry.
Boris Johnson is gearing up to face MPs in the Commons by announcing plans to ditch Plan B COVID-19 restrictions, seen as one of the PM's "Operation Red Meat" measures to win back Tory support. Johnson will be chairing a meeting of his cabinet to review the latest coronavirus data before making a Commons statement after PMQs.
"Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced," a government spokesperson ahead of the Cabinet meeting.