Tory MPs look to Sue Gray partygate report for ‘justification’ for no-confidence letters in Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson.

A report into lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street will be published in days.
Tory MPs told Insider this could give ‘justification’ for those looking to depose Boris Johnson.
Several MPs noted that there are few ‘Friends of Boris’ to help him survive a leadership challenge.

An official report into allegations that Boris Johnson’s team held a string of illegal parties in lockdown could provide “justification” for ousting the beleaguered Prime Minister, Tory MPs said. 

Just minutes before Johnson was due to take part in his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, it was revealed that Tory MP Christian Wakeford had defected to the opposition party. 

Wakeford’s move — which sources suggested was prompted by “bullying from the whips” — was then followed by a weighty intervention from former Brexit secretary David Davis

—Stefan Rousseau (@StefanRousseau) January 19, 2022

Speaking in a packed chamber, the long-standing Conservative MP told Johnson “You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.”

This was a message once given to Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister forever associated with appeasing Adolf Hitler in the years before World War II, whose reputation is held in stark contrast to Johnson’s hero Sir Winston Churchill.

One MP said the two moments acted as a “relief valve,” amid increasing suspicion that a formal challenge to Johnson’s leadership was imminent.

The MP, like others in this article, spoke to Insider on condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the turmoil in the party.

The result had “been kind of unifying”, said another backbencher. But it is not expected to remain so for long.

The pressure will only be off until the report into multiple allegations of lockdown-breaking parties is published. Sources suggested to Insider that this could come as early as Friday, with Johnson due to see the report a day early on Thursday. 

Sue Gray, the senior civil servant heading the inquiry, is not expected to explicitly condemn Johnson, but could provide “justification” for those who want to submit a letter of no confidence, two MPs separately told Insider. 

One MP told Insider this “ambiguity” could be enough to encourage more MPs to send in their letters, triggering the threshold of 54 votes before the weekend.

That has led to suspicions that the executive of the 1922 committee — who will run any potential vote — could string out the timing to allow UK newspapers “to go apeshit” and more damning polls to be published.

“Whereas last time, it was organized to give [Theresa] May support, this time I suspect they are less minded to,” the MP added. “I’m not sure the exec is full of FoBs — Friends of Boris.”

Members of the committee’s executive are now considering halving the minimum period between votes of no confidence, LBC news reported on Wednesday.

That would cut the protection afforded by a failed attempt to oust Johnson from one year to six months, meaning he could face a second attempt this summer if the first one fails.

Another MP said the Gray report would “provide a reason” for those who haven’t submitted their letters yet to do so. 

“I have always suspected he would survive [a vote of no confidence],” the former minister added. “Now I am not so sure.”

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