BoJo Granted Reprieve as MPs Plotting to Oust Him ‘Step Back’ Pending ‘Partygate’ Probe
06:17 GMT 20.01.2022 (Updated: 09:29 GMT 20.01.2022)
© AFP 2023 / TOLGA AKMENBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face covering to stop the spread of coronavirus, carries his notes in a ministerial folder as he leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 15, 2021, to take part in the weekly session of Prime Minister Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons
© AFP 2023 / TOLGA AKMEN
As a growing number of Tory MPs have reportedly submitted no-confidence letters in the UK Prime Minister amid a backlash caused by allegedly lockdown-busting parties at No 10, Boris Johnson rejected calls to quit, apologising for “misjudgements”, but telling parliament on Wednesday to wait for the Cabinet Office inquiry before making conclusions.
Conservative MPs who had allegedly been brainstorming a “coup” to topple Boris Johnson are starting to "step back", rethinking a leadership challenge until the inquiry into the alleged No 10 lockdown parties wraps up, according to Tory North Ireland Minister Conor Burns.
Earlier reports had claimed that a group of about 20 Tory MPs from the 2019 intake had conceived a plot to topple Boris Johnson by submitting enough no confidence letters to the backbench 1922 committee en masse to trigger a leadership challenge.
The “Pork Pie plotters”, named thus after they ostensibly met in the office of Alicia Kearns, whose Rutland and Melton seat is the home of pork pie making, had reportedly been infuriated by Johnson’s Sky News interview, when he stated "nobody told me" the No 10 event was rule-breaking. However, the group purportedly failed to gather the 54 letters needed, with reports suggesting no more than 11 such letters had been penned on Wednesday.
19 January 2022, 06:25 GMT
While seven Conservative MPs have already publicly declared no confidence in the PM, the last 24 hours have prompted many Tories to ask themselves the question, “What are we doing, and where is this going?, according to Conor Burns, Minister of State for Northern Ireland.
Speaking on BBC Newsnight, he said that many of his colleagues were opting to wait for the Cabinet Office report into the alleged lockdown-busting parties at No 10.
"And I think there is a real sense of stepping back and realising that the right thing to do is to wait for Sue Gray's report to then question the prime minister, as he's quite properly said he will come to the House of Commons and make a statement and answer for it," said Burns.
The UK Prime Minister faced a torrid session during PMQs on Wednesday, with Conservative Party grandee MP David Davis demanding Johnson quit in a passionate appeal, exclaiming, “In the name of God, go! This came as Tory MP for Bury South Christian Wakeford crossed the floor of the Commons chamber to defect to Labour, accusing the PM of being incapable of leading.
Referring to the defection of MP Wakeford, Tory MP Joy Morrissey was cited by the BBC as saying: "I don't think anything could have united us more than watching someone cross the floor like that."
Chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, Jake Berry, was quoted as agreeing, saying that many had "looked at what's happened today [and] understand we have to back our prime minister".
"Colleagues are now coming out now strongly and supporting the prime minister as the right man to lead the country," added Berry.
Another former cabinet minister was reported as saying that the move by Wakeford had "provided an alternative target for rage" for Tory MPs. Other Tory sources suggested the development had "unified the party".
19 January 2022, 15:54 GMT
Meanwhile, there are fears that Sue Gray's report could be more damaging to the PM than expected, reported The Times.
Senior figures in Downing Street are believed to have briefed MPs that while Gray’s report might not be directly critical of Johnson, “It’s not going to be as good as people think.”
“She’s genuinely struggling to reconcile the prime minister’s claim that this was a work event with what she’s been hearing from other people. It’s very difficult for her,” a source was cited as saying.
While the so-called “partygate” row continues to generate calls for the resignation of Boris Johnson, Conservative MPs are said to be considering a rule change, reported Sky News. The purportedly mulled amendment would ensure that even if a Tory leader won a confidence vote, he would not be immune from another leadership challenge further on in the year.
Currently, existing rules shield the embattled UK Prime Minister from the possibility of a second confidence ballot the same year if he managed to win the first one.
According to The Guardian, the 1922 Committee of backbenchers led by Sir Graham Brady that organises Tory leadership contests is weighing the possibility of shortening the period where a leader is immune from another ballot from 12 months to six.
With a barrage of accusations leveled at Johnson over claims that he or members of his staff attended “boozy” parties in 2020 while the rest of the country was under strict COVID-19 lockdown, several Conservative MPs have publicly called for the PM to resign.
9 January 2022, 07:29 GMT
Following Johnson’s admission that he attended such a Downing Street garden party, but had believed it to be a “work” event, growing ire among backbenchers has prompted speculation that the 54 letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee needed to oust the PM could soon be reached.
Conservative Party rules state that at least 15% of MPs must hand in no-confidence letters to trigger a leadership challenge. Currently, this equates to 54 Tory MPs needing to submit a letter to chairman Sir Graham Brady.
Reports claim proposals have been floated to render a second ballot possible, under the condition that a higher threshold - one-third of the parliamentary party - is met.
The move is ostensibly being considered to endow the party with "more flexibility", while ensuring that its leader is "more accountable".
“There is no excuse for taking the British people for fools, is it time to resign?” Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain asks the PM— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 19, 2022
“No” says Boris Johnson, “she must contain her impatience and wait for the inquiry next week”
#PMQs https://t.co/IHMfPqD9OJ pic.twitter.com/WDntQ2abAf
Boris Johnson batted away repeated calls to quit amid a barrage of accusations during the PMQs on Wednesday. He yet again offered an apology for the “partygate” scandal, while urging people to wait for the publication of the official Cabinet Office investigation.
Johnson indicated Sue Gray's report would be published this week. Later on Wednesday, No 10's press secretary confirmed to the press that Boris Johnson would fight to retain his post if subjected to a no-confidence vote by his party.