After months of criticism over the “Partygate” affair, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a vote of no confidence from his Conservative group. Only a few hours after the last sounds of the rushing “Jubilee” bash for Queen Elizabeth II had died down in London, on Monday it was back to hard politics – more precisely: to Johnson’s political survival.
On the same day, the 359 MPs of the Tory party should decide whether they want to continue to be led by him or not. If a majority votes against Johnson, he will lose his position as party leader and will be forced to announce his retirement as prime minister. The result should be announced in the evening (10 p.m. CEST) in front of running television cameras, said the chairman of the so-called 1922 committee, Graham Brady, to journalists in London on Monday.
Only in the morning Brady announced that the necessary number of letters from Tory MPs for a vote of no confidence – at least 54 – had been received. The threshold of at least 15 percent has thus been reached. The timing of the explosive news, which is likely to have sobered up many a sobering Briton, is no coincidence: when asked, Brady indirectly confirmed that they did not want to overshadow the anniversary celebrations in honor of the Queen in the past few days. According to party circles, the calls for a no-confidence vote were received by letter, email and even WhatsApp.
Johnson has been under domestic political pressure since it emerged bit by bit over the winter that his official home in London’s Downing Street was partying excessively while the rest of Britain sat in long lockdowns and was unable to say goodbye to dying loved ones.
Party colleagues have repeatedly publicly demanded that Johnson, who tolerated the celebration culture and in some cases even participated, should resign. However, the number of critics has never reached the necessary threshold to trigger the vote of no confidence – not even when Johnson was fined for attending one of the parties, becoming the first sitting prime minister to have been shown to have broken the law. The outbreak of war in Ukraine led some critics at times to believe it was not the right time for a change in leadership.
Only the recently published investigative report by top official Sue Gray, which gave those responsible at Downing Street a devastating certificate of good conduct, encouraged other MPs to write their letters to the responsible 1922 committee and its chairman Brady. The final straw could also have come from boos from Royal fans, who were clearly heard as Johnson arrived with his wife Carrie for the anniversary service at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday.
Dangerous for Johnson: The rebellion does not seem to come from just one wing of the party, but reflects widespread discontent. “I’m not aware of any orchestrated campaign,” said 1922 Chairman Brady.
However, the vote of no confidence does not necessarily mean Johnson’s political end. Should all party members vote, which is expected, at least 180 Tory MPs would need to vote against him to impeach him. This is considered a high hurdle: many people should doubt that there is no clear candidate for the successor. The Tories would have to elect a new boss within a short period of time, who would then probably soon be able to call new elections as prime minister.
Members of Johnson’s cabinet rushed to Twitter on Monday to pledge “100 percent backing” to their prime minister and emphasize that he was right about the “big calls,” the major political decisions of recent years. However, prominent voices also positioned themselves against Johnson: Ex-Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt – a potential successor candidate – announced that he would “vote for change”. The party’s anti-corruption officer, John Penrose, surprisingly resigned, saying Johnson had violated the ministerial code of conduct in the affair, which is considered a clear reason for his resignation.
However, a spokesman for the prime minister said Monday Johnson saw no breach of the code of conduct. Johnson asked his party colleagues in a letter for their trust, and in the afternoon he also wanted to influence them personally.
If the Prime Minister survives the vote, according to the current rules, there may not be another no-confidence vote for a period of twelve months. However, the very fact that it happened is considered a heavy blow. Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May also survived a vote of no confidence – albeit politically badly damaged. Half a year later it was over.