Boris Johnson is facing a vote of no confidence in his leadership on Monday evening in a dramatic escalation of tension between the prime minister and his own MPs.
Conservative MPs will vote in a secret ballot from 6-8pm on whether they want Johnson to carry on as prime minister, after more than 54 MPs, or 15 per cent of the parliamentary party, submitted letters demanding a vote, the threshold required to trigger a ballot.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench 1922 committee made the announcement on Monday morning.
Johnson will spend Monday pleading with MPs to back him and his allies are confident he will survive the secret ballot. “If he wins, that will draw a line under it,” Sajid Javid, health secretary, told the BBC.
Under party rules, Johnson will have to secure a simple majority of 180 MPs in a secret ballot to continue in office. The prime minister’s allies believe he will easily surpass that total.
Under current rules he can then not be challenged for 12 months, although senior Tory MPs have not excluded the possibility that the rules could be changed to allow another vote within that period.
But even if Johnson wins a confidence vote, the bitterness and breakdown in party discipline is hard for any prime minister to repair. Theresa May, who survived a confidence vote in 2018, was out a year later.
In a sign of the political ground shifting under Johnson’s feet, longstanding supporter Jesse Norman, a former Treasury minister, on Monday published a letter condemning the prime minister’s leadership as “a charade”.
He said Johnson had presided over “a culture of casual lawbreaking” at Number 10 in relation to Covid parties and that the prime minister’s belief that he had been vindicated by Sue Gray’s report into the partygate affair was “grotesque”.
Norman said Johnson’s plan to unilaterally rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol — part of his 2020 Brexit deal — would be “economically very damaging, politically foolhardy and almost certainly illegal”.
The former minister said Johnson’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda was “ugly” and he accused him of trying to divide the country on cultural and political lines, importing elements of a “presidential” system into the UK.
Conservative MPs have had the opportunity to spend the last week in their constituencies during a parliamentary recess and many have spent the time talking to voters and reflecting on Johnson’s leadership.
The four-day platinum jubilee weekend, which saw Britain coming together in a series of national celebrations, also saw some booing of Johnson as he arrived at a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Tory unhappiness over the partygate scandal has crystallised anger, but Johnson’s divisive policies and his decision last week to endorse another tax rise — this time on energy companies — infuriated some on the right.