Boris Johnson on brink of no confidence vote, reports say

About 54 Tory MPs are reportedly prepared to write letters declaring a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he visits Finchley Memorial Hospital in North London on Tuesday. AFP

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to face an increasingly angry chorus of members of his own party amid reports the 54 letters which would launch a no-confidence vote could be received on Wednesday.

Reports on Tuesday night suggested MPs furious at the prime minister’s handling of the “partygate” scandal engulfing Westminster had been angered further by his insistence that nobody had told him a party at Downing Street would break rules he himself had set.

And that especially those in the 2019 intake, many of whom have slim majorities after votes were “lent” to them during the last election, were reportedly preparing to submit their letters to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, Sir Graham Brady.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford — who has a majority of 402 — became the seventh Conservative MP to publicly call for Mr Johnson to go on Tuesday, reports say.

But a number of newspapers reported that the plot to oust Mr Johnson was far wider, as the prime minister will attempt to reassure his party when he appears in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

An expected announcement that Plan B measures to stem the spread of coronavirus will be lifted next week is likely to please some backbenchers.

But MPs from the former so-called Red Wall were said to have met on Tuesday to discuss Mr Johnson’s future in a gathering nicknamed the “pork pie plot” or the “pork pie putsch”, and one told The Daily Telegraph the 15 per cent of letters needed to trigger a challenge could be reached on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson, who was reported to have spent Tuesday evening in his Commons office meeting with potential rebels, apologised multiple times in a major broadcast interview for “misjudgements that were made”.

But he stuck to his defence that he had thought a “bring your own booze” party held in the Number 10 garden on May 20, 2020, had been a work event and he had not been warned about it in advance.

Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings, threw that into doubt on Monday as he said he would “swear under oath” Mr Johnson was told about the bash.

But asked if he had lied to Parliament over the parties as he visited a north London hospital, the prime minister told broadcasters: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgements that I’ve made, that we may have made in Number 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.

“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that … was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons, when I went out into that garden, I thought that I was attending a work event.”

Mr Johnson said he “can’t imagine why on Earth it would have gone ahead, or why it would’ve been allowed to go ahead” if he had been told it was anything but a “work event”.

“I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgements that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event,” he said.

Mr Johnson confirmed he had given evidence to an inquiry being carried out into Whitehall parties during lockdown restrictions by senior official Sue Gray.

And the PA news agency understands Mr Cummings has also agreed to speak to the civil servant who has been described as “formidable”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the prime minister his unequivocal backing on Tuesday, as Mr Johnson made his first public appearance after reducing his contacts last week, when Number 10 said a family member had tested positive for Covid-19.

But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries came out to bat for Mr Johnson, telling The Times those manoeuvring against him were “being disloyal to the prime minister, the party, their constituents and the wider country”.

Mr Johnson insisted he only saw the “bring your own booze” invitation his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent to more than 100 staff “the other day … when it emerged”.

He declined to say whether he would resign if it was proved he did intentionally mislead Parliament, instead pleading for patience before Ms Gray delivers the verdict of her partygate inquiry, which is not expected until the end of this week at the earliest.

The prime minister appeared distressed as he faced questions about two events in Number 10 last April on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, during which Queen Elizabeth II sat alone as she mourned.

The prime minister audibly breathed heavily behind his mask as he said: “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.

“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgements that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”

Of those Tory MPs withholding their judgment for now, many accepted that if Mr Johnson was found to have misled Parliament, he would have to resign.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab accepted Mr Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he intentionally misled Parliament, while Mid Derbyshire Conservative MP Pauline Latham told Times Radio: “If he has lied to Parliament, there will be no choice.

“At the end of the day, he made the rules, he was in that briefing room looking at the cameras saying this is what you have to do. So, you can’t say you didn’t know what the rules were. We all knew what the rules were.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson “needs to go”.

“I think he’s trying to take the British public for fools. He’s not sorry that he clearly attended a party, knows it’s against the rules; he’s sorry he got caught for it,” she told the PA news agency.

“I think people are incredibly frustrated.”

But she added: “He won’t, of course, and now it’s up to his MPs to do the right thing.”

Updated: January 19, 2022, 9:37 AM