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Tory Grandee Says Boris Johnson Could Face A "Cabinet Car Crash" After Tight Confidence Vote Victory

Tory Grandee Says Boris Johnson Could Face A 'Cabinet Car Crash' After Tight Confidence Vote Victory

(Alamy)

3 min read

Exclusive: William Hague, former foreign secretary and Conservative Party leader, has warned that Boris Johnson could face a “car crash in the Cabinet” after the Prime Minister only narrowly won a confidence vote in his leadership.

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

Johnson faces substantial instability in the party, with 41% of Tory MPs voting that they had no confidence in his leadership, leading to speculation that Johnson will announce a reshuffle of his top team next week to help avoid future rebellions among Conservative MPs.

Hague, whose former seat of Richmond is now held by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, said he would not have been willing to serve in Johnson’s Cabinet if he was still in government. 

“I would have been so upset by the ‘partygate’ business that I would have found it hard to wear that, for instance,” he said, speaking exclusively to The House magazine.

According to the rules of the 1922 committee that govern the Conservative leadership, Johnson cannot be challenged with another confidence vote for at least twelve months.

But despite there being limited appetite among Tory MPs to change the rules to challenge him sooner, Hague believes Johnson's leadership could still be derailed in other ways. 

“One way or another, when you've got that level of disaffection in your own party, it won't end well," he continued. 

“I don't know how it will end, but it will end in some sort of car crash in the cabinet, or some revolt of the activists, or a change in the rules to have another leadership ballot, or an election defeat. It will end badly.”

He added: “I don't know how it will end or what the mechanism is. I just think when one can see something is going to end badly, you have to do something and take responsibility as the leader to do whatever you need to do, even if that includes getting out of the way.”

Hague described the current situation as “not sustainable” and accused Johnson of having a “values problem”. “One of the values [of leadership] has to be trust and integrity. And clearly that has become a problem area,” he said.

He also accused Johnson of pursuing an erratic policy agenda, which he believed had attracted criticism from the wider party. 

“It appears as if when the chief of staff changes at Number 10, the direction of policy changes. But then the MPs think, so, what is the set of values we're pursuing here?,” Hague added. 

Asked about the Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties during lockdown, and the recent resignation of anti-corruption tsar John Penrose, Hague said the controversies were inflicting “a lot of damage” to the Conservative Party brand.

“It doesn't make me pessimistic about the party in the medium term. But certainly, it's causing an immense problem at the moment, as we've seen in some of the local elections, particularly in London, and two difficult by-elections going on at the moment.”

The former foreign secretary described Sunak – his successor as MP for Richmond (Yorks) who is widely tipped as a competitive leadership rival to Boris Johnson – as a “great friend” and “a very persuasive and accomplished person”.

“I’m a huge admirer of Rishi Sunak,” Hague said. “I think he's doing a great job as Chancellor. And he ought to have a very big place in the future of our party.”

But Hague was reluctant to speculate on whether Sunak still had a shot at the party leadership. 

"It's dangerous to speculate about future leaders," he said. "There are several highly capable future leaders, actually, in the Conservative Party, which is a good thing.”

 

Read the full interview with William Hague in the next issue of The House magazine.

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