PM narrowly survives confidence vote following Partygate row

Less than two-thirds of Conservative Party MPs express support for Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson chairing a cabinet meeting this morning after surviving last night's confidence vote. Photo:m

Boris Johnson has narrowly won a vote of confidence in his leadership after Tory MPs voted by 211 to 148 to keep him in charge.

Announcing the results yesterday evening, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs Sir Graham Brady confirmed that 58.6% of the party had expressed their support for the prime minister.

But with 41.4% of MPs voting against him, concern remains over whether Johnson can continue to govern the party in the long-term.

Johnson needed at least 50% of his parliamentary party to back him to win the vote, and faced being removed from Downing Street if that threshold had not been reached. When Theresa May won her confidence vote in December 2018 by 63% she was forced to resign six months later. 

The result also suggests that among the Tory backbenchers, those MPs not said to be on the government “payroll” as ministers, aides, envoys or other positions, the PM won very few votes.

Under the current rules of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, the PM will now be safe from another leadership challenge for another year.

Speaking after the result Johnson said the slim victory "gives us the opportunity to put behind us all the stuff that I know that the media has wanted to focus on for a very long time".

Johnson said yesterday's victory will allow him and the government to “do our job, which is to focus on the stuff that I think the public actually want us to be talking about”.

“Which is what we are doing to help the people in this country and all the things we're doing to take this country forward," he added. 

“What this means tonight is that we can focus on exactly that.”

Johnson also rejected the suggestion the result had not been decisive enough to carry on as leader, saying: "I've got a far bigger mandate from my own parliamentary colleagues for instance than I had in 2019.”

The secret ballot was triggered after at least 54 MPs submitted letters to Brady, whose committee runs internal leadership contests, stating they no longer had confidence in Johnson’s ability to govern.

But a raft of cabinet ministers rallied round the PM after the result, with trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan telling BBC Radio 5Live this means Johnson can now “really draw together the party” and “push forward on the agenda we were all elected on in 2019”.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi declared it a "handsome" victory. But he told Sky News he hoped the Tories "can draw a line under this now and focus on delivery".  

Zahawi also suggested the result will be celebrated by Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelensky. "What do you think President Zelensky will be thinking tonight?" he asked. "He'll be punching the air because he knows his great ally Boris Johnson will be prime minister tomorrow morning. That's what we've got to focus on."

Foreign Office minister, and longstanding Boris Johnson ally, James Cleverly said the prime minister had now delivered “a comprehensive victory among the conservative membership, a comprehensive victory at the general election, and a comprehensive victory at the vote of no confidence”.

He added: “There’s people who want to keep re-litigating this argument. We talk about them more than we do the prime minister. We now need to let him get on with the job."

But a former cabinet minister said the size of the rebellion reflected the "real mood shift" in the party in recent weeks.

They told CSW sister title PoliticsHome: "The danger now is we just limp on from week to week. The next moves have to be from ministers to bring this to a head".

Another government source said they did not see can Johnson can now "credibly ask the public to put confidence in him at the next general election".

"I think that he can survive this but the people that he needs to survive against are ultimately not Conservative MPs – it’s the voting public at the next general election," they added. 

"The voting public at the next general election will be faced with Keir Starmer, who’s not an extremist like Jeremy Corbyn was, they will also be faced with the cost of living crisis which is not going away."

Starmer, the Labour leader, said a "divided" Conservative Party have "ignored the British public and hitched themselves and their party firmly to Boris Johnson and all he represents".

In a televised statement he said: "The Conservative Party now believes that good government focused on improving lives is too much to ask.

"The Conservative Party now believes that breaking the law is no impediment to making the law. The Conservative Party now believes that the British public have no right to expect honest politicians."

The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "Whilst Boris Johnson has clung on today - make no mistake, his reputation is in tatters and his authority is now totally shot.

"It's clear that the prime minister and the Conservative Party are laughing at the British public."

But culture secretary Nadine Dorries said it is "time to get back to the job of governing”, tweeting: "The person Starmer doesn't want to face at an election is Boris Johnson who secured the biggest Conservative majority since 1987 and the highest share of the vote of any party since 1979, with 14 million votes.”

Cabinet colleague Michael Gove also offered his support, saying it is time to "focus on the people's priorities" now that the prime minister has "secured" the trust of his MPs.

While the health secretary Sajid Javid said “tonight the PM has secured a fresh mandate from the parliamentary party”, adding: “Now we need to unite and focus on the country’s challenges.

“Boosting economic growth, tackling the Covid backlogs, protecting our national security, and so much more.”

The Labour MP David Lammy called the confidence vote result "staggering" and “appalling” however, telling Sky News: "He's done worse than Thatcher did in 1990, worse than John Major in 1995, worse than Theresa May in 2018 - all of those prime ministers went on in the end to lose their job.

"Forty per cent of his parliamentary party against him, most of his backbenchers against him at a time when people are facing rising inflation, cost of living, he's got a parliamentary inquiry, he's got two by-elections.

"This is a disaster and he should go.”

Ahead of the vote many senior Tory MPs came out in opposition to Johnson on Monday, including former leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, as the former foreign and health secretary confirmed he would vote to replace Johnson as Tory leader.

Hunt, who recently told The House he would not rule out running again against Johnson, is viewed as a favourite to replace the embattled PM.

Rebel MPs had put out briefings over the weekend that Johnson was no longer an "electoral asset" and is leading the party to a "substantial defeat" at the next general election.

PoliticsHome understands that MPs who have called on him to go had been sharing the note with “like-minded” colleagues who are considering whether to push for a change in leadership.

The document suggested that Tory rebels believe that as many as 160 Conservative MPs face losing their seats at the 2024 election based on the current trajectory, the briefing claims, adding that the impact of tactical voting could result in a "landslide" defeat.

Those in favour of the PM also put out a counter-briefing document, highlighting Johnson's achievements as leader of the party.

It urged Tory MPs to "put the distraction of the past months behind us, unite, and focus on getting on with the job".

Eleanor Langford is a reporter and Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter of CSW sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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