UK Prime Minister and current Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson faced the largest Tory rebellion of his tenure on Tuesday night, with doubts cast regarding his performance amid previous scandals compounded by disagreements over the so-called Plan B on tougher COVID-19 rules for England this winter.
More than two dozen letters of no confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be submitted to Chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, who will reportedly be receiving them over Christmas, Tory MPs were cited as saying by The Telegraph.
Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory rebels that unless he manages to “reset” his entire operation, his leadership of the party could be imminently challenged. This comes as Johnson faced the greatest backbench revolt of his premiership on 14 December.
Over a quarter of Tory MPs had opposed a key measure of the Prime Minister’s “Plan B” for dealing with COVID-19 infections this winter – the mandatory introduction of health passes. Despite the revolt, the plans were passed by MPs 369 to 126 thanks to Labour support. As of Wednesday, proof of double-vaccination or a recent negative test is required to enter nightclubs, big sports matches and other large events amid an effort to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of the respiratory virus.
The breaking of the Tory whip by over 100 MP on Tuesday, with the entire leadership of the 1922 Committee joining the snub, comes as Boris Johnson has been facing a torrid period. His government has been battling claims over last year’s unlawful lockdown-breaching Downing Street Christmas parties and sleaze allegations. The spate of authority-eroding scandals has increased pressure on the PM on all fronts.
A leadership challenge has “got to be on the cards” unless the Prime Minister alters his handling of matters, veteran Tory backbencher Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee and one of the Tories to vote against the PM – was cited as warning:
“I think now the Prime Minister has got to think very carefully about how he is going to reset his performance to actually govern with a united party because we all know what happens to disunited parties.” He also warned that the PM “has got to realise that he has got to consult his party properly before bringing these sorts of measures to the Commons”.
“He has got to now be in some danger and he has got to realise that because if he doesn’t raise that then he will be in much bigger danger…If this goes on.., I think some members of the party will be thinking to themselves we have got to have a change,” said Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
Mark Harper, who heads the COVID Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said the Government “could not carry on like this”.
“He can get back on track… Lots of things are going wrong and there needs to be a reset,” he insisted.
According to Tobias Ellwood, the defence committee chairman in the House of Commons, the MPs’ revolt “sent a clear message that future policy will receive greater scrutiny and [that] No 10’s performance over the last couple of months was sub-optimal and things need to change”.
Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, warned that the party was “ruthless” at shedding leaders who had become a “liability,” saying:
“The old Boris magic is wearing thin. He was brilliant at getting Brexit done. When he became PM I assumed he would get a great team to help him run the Government to make up for his lack of organisational skills. But he hasn’t. As soon as [Tory leaders] become a liability they have to go. Boris knows this because he took part in the unceremonious defenestration of Theresa May. He needs to change or go.”
Tuesday’s revolt also included the Commons’ newest Conservative MP, Louie French. The MP, who had won the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, explained his decision by saying that he had made “a clear pre-election pledge that I would not support COVID passes for our domestic economy and voted accordingly”.
According to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the Tory rebellion was “a very significant blow to the already damaged authority of the prime minister”.
“It confirms that he’s too weak to discharge the basic functions of government. These public health measures would not have gone through if Labour hadn’t shown the leadership – that the prime minister failed to show – by voting in the public interest.”
Starmer urged the Prime Minister to “take a long, hard look at himself and ask himself whether he has the authority to take this country through the pandemic”.
Boris Johnson’s authority is likely to take a further beating if the Tories lose the North Shropshire by-election, as voters head to the polls in the West Midlands constituency today.
The latter was triggered by the resignation of disgraced former MP Owen Paterson after an attempt by Johnson’s government on 3 November to save the ex-lawmaker, guilty of breaking lobbying rules, from a 30-day suspension imposed by the Commons standards watchdog. Despite ministers U-turning the following day, ditching a proposed rethink of parliament’s disciplinary processes, fallout from the sleaze row has rumbled on.
Liberal Democrats’candidate Helen Morgan is believed to be eyeing an opportunity to overturn what has been a “safe seat” for the Tories, apart from two years in the 1900s. Morgan is facing off against Tory candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst.
A senior Tory MP was quoted as saying that he had “never seen anything like it”.
According to some campaigners on the ground, the result of the by-election is too close to call.
Asked on Wednesday about the by-election, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “We are fighting for every vote.” The result is expected to be announced in the early hours of Friday.