Jubilee over, Conservatives rush to push Boris Johnson out
London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face a vote on the future of his leadership on Monday, amid growing backlash from his colleagues over the so-called partygate scandal, a cost-of-living crisis and a controversial immigration policy.
A vote of confidence in Johnson’s premiership will be held between 6pm and 8pm, London time (Tuesday morning AEST) and the ballots counted immediately afterwards. It is not clear whether there are the required 180 votes against Johnson which are required in the ballot of Conservative MPs to oust him.
Angry MPs circulated a one-page memo over the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend that listed 13 reasons to drop Johnson, who less than three years ago won an 80-seat majority. The memo concluded that the “only way to restore Conservative fortunes to a point where we can win the next general election”, due by January 2025, was to “remove” the prime minister.
Several high profile cabinet members, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Housing Secretary Michael Gove, have already pledged their support to Johnson.
However, likely leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, a former foreign secretary, has declared he will cast a vote of no confidence.
“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,” he said in a social media post.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the formal group of backbench Conservative MPs known as the 1922 Committee, said on Monday the vote-triggering threshold of 54 letters, or 15 per cent, expressing no confidence in the prime minister had been reached in the past week.
Brady said he notified Johnson on Sunday that the threshold for triggering a vote of confidence had been reached. He said the pair agreed to a timetable for a confidence vote to take place, with both men agreeing the vote should happen “as soon as could reasonably take place”.
Asked when the threshold was breached, he said: “It is slightly complicated because some colleagues had asked specifically that it should not be until the end of the Jubilee celebrations.”
Johnson will address the 1922 Committee about two hours before the meeting, giving him a chance to make a face-to-face plea not to be sacked by his fellow Tory MPs. He has also written to all Conservative MPs, making the case for why he should remain in the job.
“I know over recent months I have come under a great deal of fire, I know that experience has been painful for the whole party,” the letter says. “Some of the criticism has been perhaps fair, some less so. I have listened and learned.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Tonight is a chance to end months of speculation and allow the government to draw a line and move on, delivering on the people’s priorities. The PM welcomes the opportunity to make his case to MPs and will remind them that when they’re united and focused on the issues that matter to voters there is no more formidable political force.”
Johnson’s government has been mired in scandal since January following the revelation of several private gatherings in Downing Street which attracted 126 fines from police over breached coronavirus restrictions, and a highly critical report by senior civil servant Sue Gray in which she questioned his leadership.
One reason given for removing him was that he was booed outside the thanksgiving service for the Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral, with the memo saying this “tells us nothing that data does not”, citing polling that “no social group trusts him, with even 55 per cent of current Conservatives calling him untrustworthy”.
The memo said: “The damage done to trust in Boris Johnson is such that popular policies are falling flat with the public (e.g. cost of living measures).”
On Monday, former Treasury minister Jesse Norman announced he had withdrawn his support from Johnson and submitted a letter.
He said Johnson had presided over “a culture of casual law-breaking” in No.10 and that his claim to have been vindicated by the Gray report was “grotesque”.
“I have supported Boris Johnson for 15 years, for the London mayoralty and for PM. Very sadly, I have written to him to say I can no longer do so, for the reasons set out below,” Norman said.
He criticised Johnson over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the government’s “ugly” Rwanda immigration policy. (The UK has vowed to deport boat arrivals to be processed in Rwanda, in a similar policy to Australia’s offshoring detention scheme.)
He also said that under Johnson the government “seems to lack a sense of mission”.
A successful vote would trigger a lengthy process to for a leadership ballot, where potential candidates are giving a deadline to nominate, with a run-off process of voting held if there are more than two candidates. The final pair is then put forward for Conservative Party members around the country to vote.