Tory MP Christian Wakeford defects in blow to Johnson as he battles to save leadership

Boris Johnson plans to fight next general election despite calls to resign and losing one MP to Labour

Boris Johnson will fight any no confidence vote launched against him by his own MPs and expects to fight the next general election, No 10 has said, after he was urged to resign by a Tory grandee and lost one of his newest MPs to Labour.

The prime minister on Wednesday vowed to win back the seat of a Tory politician who defected to the opposition ranks with a swipe at the UK Prime Minister's integrity.

Mr Johnson again apologised for parties taking place in his Downing Street garden amid repeated calls for his resignation, with one high-profile member of his own party calling for him to resign.

On Wednesday, the prime minister faced challenging questioning by politicians as 12 members of his own party wrote letters to the 1922 Committee asking for a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson after allegations that parties were held while the country was under strict lockdown conditions.

Moments before Mr Johnson was due to face politicians in the House of Commons, MP for Bury South Christian Wakeford defected from the Conservative Party to the opposition Labour Party. In his response to the defection, Mr Johnson reaffirmed his intention to remain at the helm of his party into the next election despite rising calls for him to step down.

The appearance of Mr Wakeford on the Labour benches saw more calls for his resignation and led Conservative MP David Davis to quote a comment made to former prime minister Neville Chamberlain before his 1940 resignation by Leo Amery, which said: "You have sat here for too long for the good you have done, in the name of God, go!"

Mr Johnson later remarked he wasn't going to quit despite the pressure. "I haven’t sat here quite long enough, indeed nothing like long enough in my view," he said. "I think that masks do erode our ability to educate properly and to learn properly, and I’m glad that they’re going."

Mr Wakeford won his seat in 2019 in a former Red Wall constituency which was previously held by the Labour Party.

"As I said to the House, I apologise sincerely for any misjudgments made," Mr Johnson said.

"You must wait for the inquiry before drawing any conclusions.

"The Conservative Party won Bury South for the first time in the General Election under this prime minister with an agenda of uniting and levelling up and we will win again in Bury South under this prime minister."

Mr Johnson has faced a backlash across the country after a party was held in Downing Street, attended by 40 people with around 100 invited.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains defiant during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. AFP

An email inviting staff to the party, which Mr Johnson admitted to attending, told them to "bring their own booze" and led to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer quipping "bring your own boos" after Mr Johnson repeated his apology.

It is understood staff used a small suitcase to sneak alcohol into the building.

"I know it's not going well," Mr Starmer told the House of Commons.

"But at least the staff at No 10 know how to pack a suitcase."

As the prime minister then stood to deliver an updated statement on England's Covid-19 regulations, the chamber rapidly emptied with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak one of the quickest to head for the door.

As they filtered out, Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, muttered under his breath "what a day!".

Mr Johnson announced Covid-19 restrictions will be eased next week with working from home guidance ending and the wearing of face masks in schools, shops and public transport scrapped.

Mr Starmer accused Mr Johnson of being "too distracted" to do the job and said his Cabinet was "too busy plotting leadership campaigns to keep the public safe".

Mr Wakeford had earlier said the country needed a government that “upholds the highest standards of integrity and probity” but told Mr Johnson “both you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.

The Labour leader said the door was open for any other politicians who wished to join a party of "prosperity and respect".

Mr Wakeford won Bury South, which had elected a Labour MP at every election since 1997, in 2019.

He announced his decision in the Bury Times and sent a letter to Mr Johnson explaining why he had lost patience with his leadership.

“I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative government that you lead are doing nothing to help the people of my constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse," Mr Wakeford said.

“Britain needs a government focused on tackling the cost of living crisis and providing a path out of the pandemic that protects living standards and defends the security of all."

Christian Wakeford (R) has defected from the Conservatives to Labour, blaming Boris Johnson’s leadership for his decision. Alamy

Mr Starmer welcomed his decision.

“I would like to welcome Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party. He has always put the people of Bury South first," he said.

“As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and, indeed, are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.

“I’m determined to build a new Britain which guarantees security, prosperity and respect for all and I’m delighted that Christian has decided to join us in this endeavour.”

In a recent poll, Mr Johnson's party is predicted to lose all but three of 45 Red Wall seats, which were won from the Labour Party in 2019, if an election was called.

Polling by JL Partners found the Tory vote had plummeted in Red Wall seats over the course of a month, with the prime minister’s approval rating dropping from minus 9 in December to minus 35.

Allies of Mr Johnson have appealed for him to be given more time as some of his own MPs are plotting to remove him from No 10 over the partygate row.

A group of Tories who won their seats in Mr Johnson’s 2019 landslide election victory appear to have lost faith in their leader.

Mr Johnson said of the No 10 party that “nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules” and he believed he was attending a work event.

A series of gatherings in No 10 and Whitehall are being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray, and Tory MPs were urged by ministers to wait for her report before deciding whether to move against the prime minister.

One Tory backbencher has said he expects enough Conservative MPs will submit letters this week to trigger a confidence vote in Mr Johnson.

Andrew Bridgen, one of seven MPs to have publicly declared they have written to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a vote, said he expects at least 20 more letters on Wednesday from MPs elected in 2019.

Under party rules, there will be a confidence vote if 54 Conservative MPs submit letters to Mr Brady.

“I heard first-hand last night that another 20 from the 2019 intake will be going in today," Mr Bridgen said.

“I would have thought that will encourage a considerable number of others who are wavering to put their letters in. I think will we get to threshold of 54 this week. Graham Brady will announce we are having a confidence vote next week, probably Tuesday or Wednesday.

“The Sue Gray report, I think, will be out Tuesday or Wednesday next week. and of course Dominic Cummings and those who have got information damaging to the prime minister will probably dump everything into the press this weekend to influence the vote next week.”

Updated: January 20, 2022, 7:44 AM