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Tory Rebels Are Biding Their Time Before Making New Moves To Oust Boris Johnson

3 min read

Tory rebels hoping to oust Boris Johnson say they're biding their time, but remain committed to replacing their party leader before the next election, PoliticsHome has been told.

A cohort of rebels from varied wings and generations of the party, and representing seats extending well beyond the Red Wall, plan to wait for the publication of Sue Gray’s report into alleged lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street before making their next moves.

But sources told PoliticsHome that because the matter is unpredictable, they are prepared to respond to the consistently evolving situation. Tory rebels have been communicating plans via individual Whatsapp messages rather than “risky” group chats. 

On Monday, a group of 2019-intake Tory MPs were reported to have instigated an operation – dubbed the “pork pie plot” – to collectively submit letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson to chair of the 1922 backbench committee Sir Graham Brady. It was rumoured they had breached the threshold of 54. 

The defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to Labour in protest at Johnson's leadership appeared to pour cold water on the rebellion, but PoliticsHome understands that concern was rife among serious rebels that moves to trigger a no confidence vote in Johnson were actually being made too early.

Multiple sources expressed concern that triggering a confidence vote before the publication of Gray’s inquiry concludes could end up working in the Prime Minister’s favour. If Johnson were to win a confidence vote, MPs would not be able to challenge his leadership in the same way for another year. Timing is therefore crucial, and it is understood that some rebels see a delay in breaching the threshold as a positive development.

But dissent in the Conservative party is palpable nonetheless, particularly since Johnson sought to defend his attendance at a Downing Street event during lockdown on the basis that nobody had told him it would be against the rules. 

“We didn’t make Boris Johnson Prime Minister for his meticulous grasp of tedious rules,” influential Conservative MP Steve Baker told the BBC’s Political Thinking Podcast on Thursday.

“But this is appalling,” he added.

“The public are rightly furious, so at the moment I’m afraid it does look like checkmate, but whether he can save himself, we’ll see.

“I’m very clear that if he’s broken the law or lied at the despatch box, then he must go. I would then act myself to that end.”

While Wakeford's defection has been seen by many as a serious blow to Johnson, allies of the Prime Minister who PoliticsHome spoke to seemed satisfied that it appeared to have placated wavering rebels.

A senior minister told PoliticsHome they believed that Wakeford’s defection was unlikely to focus anger against the Prime Minister.

“There is a small but shared feeling amongst colleagues that we’ve managed to take a step back from the brink to take a breather,” they said.

“The rally cry for the PM from his backbenchers earlier will have come as a relief to many and a reassuring sign for now that not all hope is entirely lost.”

They said the incident had “fostered a renewed sense of collective thought amongst Conservative colleagues that the priority now should be not battling amongst themselves”.

But Wakeford’s move doesn't seem to have lessened the resolve among a set of rebels who believe that while the MP may have helped Johnson in the short-term, his long term prospects still looked shaky.

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