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By Ben Guerin
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Tory MPs Expect Boris Johnson To Survive Gray Report But Warn That Next Election Will Be Lost

5 min read

Conservative MPs expect Boris Johnson to avoid a vote of no confidence after the publication of the Sue Gray report, telling PoliticsHome that there isn't sufficient momentum to get rid of him.

However, one senior Tory MP said that while the Prime Minister will probably survive this latest threat to his leadership, it means the party is on course to lose the next general election.

"Today is the day he [Johnson] got in the clear, but also the day when I realised we will lose the next general election," they said on Wednesday.

The feeling among Conservative MPs following the report's publication this morning is that while it was another damaging moment for Johnson, it is unlikely to trigger a rebellion of Tory MPs large enough to hit the 54 letters needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in him.

One senior backbencher who is highly critical of Johnson said the senior civil servant's report, which contained pictures as well as text, was "bad, but not fatal" for his leadership.

The expectation within the party on Wednesday afternoon is that while a handful of Conservative MPs may submit letters to 1922 Committee Chairman Graham Brady as a result of Gray's findings being made public, there will not be a large influx of signatures.

A Tory MP elected in 2019 who previously supported Johnson said the party was on course to lose the next election under Johnson's leadership, but that there was no serious effort to replace him.

Julian Sturdy, Tory MP for York Outer, became the latest MP to call for Johnson to resign, releasing a statement on Wednesday afternoon that "unable to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt".

"It is clear discussions about parties in Downing Street remain a damaging distraction at a time when our country faces massive challenges with war returning to Europe, a global cost of living crisis, and our recovery from the pandemic being more important than ever," he wrote.

"This is clearly a time when we cannot have any doubt about the honesty, integrity, and personal character of the Prime Minister."

A Conservative MP who is more supportive of the Prime Minister, however, said "obviously [there was] lots of bad stuff" in Gray's report "but I'm really not convinced that there's anything in the big picture we didn't already know".

The report, which was published earlier today, said many of the events which took place in Downing Street and Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown "should not have been allowed to happen," and that the attendance of senior figures at them gave the impression to junior employees that they were permitted.

“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture," Gray said.

The report said events investigated were "not in line with Covid guidance at the time” and that "even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance".

It found that cleaners and security workers were subjected to "lack of respect and poor treatment" by those who attended the rule-breaking events, and that attendees were encouraged by senior officials to ensure they are not caught on camera "walking around waving bottles of wine etc".

Addressing the 1922 committee this evening, following the publication of Gray's report, the PM said he was “particularly disgusted” by cleaners and security mistreatment details, and said he went around and apologised to them this afternoon.

The PM also claimed that those who had "behaved most offensively in that regard" have now “left the building”.

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis says the PM was “extremely measured and extremely compassionate” in the 1922 and hes “extremely confident” that he will get things “back on track”.

A Conservative party source who was in the 1922 committee meeting said Johnson had likened Gray's report to "having a mirror held up to the workings of government and Number 10, which is always very sobering". They said the mirror was "at times distorted". 

During the meeting of MPs Johnson was said to have paid tribute to staff in the civil service and House of Commons for the work they did securing PPE, testing and vaccination. 

"To my dying day, [Johnson said] said, he will pay tribute to them,” according to the source.

They added that Johnson made a plea to "focus on the big issues".

"We need to stop talking about Westminster and start talking about the people who send us here and the issues that matter to them,” the source said. 

In a press conference this afternoon, Johnson repeatedly said he would not resign over the report. 

However, a YouGov poll published today to coincide with the publication of Gray's work found that nearly two thirds of people believed Johnson should quit, while 30% said he should not.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who has already submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister, today urged other Conservative MPs to move to get rid of Johnson, asking them: "Can we win the general election on this current trajectory?"

Douglas Ross MP, the Conservative party's leader in Scotland who previously called on Johnson to quit over partygate but then withdrew his remarks, said today Johnson should resign as Prime Minister once the war in Ukraine is over.

Additional reporting by Eleanor Langford and Noa Hoffman.

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