Downing Street Has Launched A "Huge Save Boris" Campaign As No Confidence Letters Pile Up
4 min read
A Downing Street operation to stave off a Commons challenge to Boris Johnson's leadership is in motion as the number of Conservative MPs calling for the prime minister to resign continues to rise.
A minister told PoliticsHome a "huge save Boris operation" was underway on Tuesday afternoon, as the number of Tory MPs publicly calling on him to stand aside hit the 28 mark.
A senior government source insisted that the under-pressure prime minister was still the Conservative party's strongest electoral asset, despite the party currently trailing Labour in the opinion polls.
"Where is the genuine alternative?" they told PoliticsHome.
Government whips have been phoning Conservative MPs in an effort to shore up support and deter wavering Tories from sending letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, PoliticsHome understands. Johnson himself has phoned MPs too, according to the i.
The same minister said there had been "an increased wind of change this week" within the Conservative party after reaction to the publication of the long-awaited Sue Gray report last week was initially muted. There is now a growing belief in Westminster that Brady could announce that the 54 letter threshold has been reached as soon as next week, once the Queen's Jubilee celebrations are over.
A Conservative MP elected in 2019 said a vote of no confidence in Johnson "feels inevitable now".
They added that it was a moment of great danger for the prime minister because the MPs pushing for his departure are "dotted all over the country," not confined to a particular section of the party.
A senior government source said Johnson still represented the Tory party's best chance of winning the next general election.
"He has the weight and will to get through this – and you have to ask yourself: where is the genuine alternative? It simply isn’t there," they said.
"Despite the stormy seas, he is still the leader best equipped to defeat Starmer at the next election.
"He is a prime minister who is still mobbed everywhere he goes. He reaches people that have never been reached by a Conservative government before."
John Stevenson, the MP for Carlisle, on Tuesday became the latest Tory to publicly call for Johnson's exit. In a statement he said he had "taken appropriate action" to force a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
On Monday former Cabinet minister Jeremy Wright became one of the most high-profile Conservative MPs to do so. He said the prime minister's handling of the partygate saga had done "lasting damage" to the Tory party.
Andrea Leadsom, a former secretary of state who has twice run to be Conservative party leader, today said Johnson had been responsible for "unacceptable failings of leadership that cannot be tolerated". She didn't explicitly call for him to quit, however.
Science minister George Freeman this afternoon refused to say whether he believed Johnson would win a vote of no confidence.
"I don't know where backbench colleagues are," he said.
He was equally uncertain about whether Johnson would win such a vote. "Honestly you'd have to spend as much time as you do talking to my colleagues to know the answer to that. I just don't know," he added.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are ramping up the pressure on Conservative MPs in target seats who have not yet publicly called for Johnson to resign.
One of those is Solicitor General Alex Chalk, whose majority in Cheltenham, a former Lib Dem stronghold, is just 981.
"As a high-ranking Government lawyer, Alex Chalk is dragging the British legal system through the mud by defending Boris Johnson," said Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.
"Alex Chalk himself said he would resign from a law-breaking Government. Yet now he is now propping one up as a loyal Minister."
A number of the Conservative MPs who have called on Johnson to resign represent seats in the south of England that are at risk of falling to the Liberal Democrats at the next general election. Seven – including Stephen Hammond and Steve Brine – have sent letters of no confidence.
"For vast swathes of the country the next election will be a choice between four more years of Boris Johnson or a Liberal Democrat MP," Cooper said.
"As we saw in Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire and this May's local elections, the public are overwhelmingly backing the Liberal Democrats when given that choice."
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