Boris Johnson calls for party to move on after surviving confidence vote

UK PM had touted the biggest electoral victory for the Conservatives for 40 years under his leadership

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a tight confidence vote for his position as Conservative Party leader on Monday night, after rivals forced an internal referendum following damaging scandals, including a police fine over a Downing Street birthday party while the country was in Covid-19 lockdown.

Sir Graham Brady, the senior Conservative announcing the result, declared that Mr Johnson had gathered 211 votes compared with 148 no-confidence ballots.

The prime minister insisted he had secured a “decisive” victory despite 41 per cent of his MPs voting to oust him, arguing the government could now “move on” and focus on what “really matters to people”.

He poured cold water on the prospect of a snap election, saying he was “certainly not interested” in the idea.

Boris Johnson leaves by the back entrance of No 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning. Reuters

The prime minister reacted by telling reporters in Downing Street: “I think it’s an extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result which enables us to move on, to unite and to focus on delivery and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

He rejected the assertion that he was now a lame duck prime minister who needed to call a snap election to secure a new mandate from the public, insisting he was focused on people’s priorities.

Mr Johnson's supporters said he could recover and bounce back.

“I think people who won those seats in 2019 have to recognise that he won that election," said one, Ben Bradley.

“He is a huge personality who engaged with people in places where we hadn’t been able to do that. A lot of MPs are sometimes maybe guilty of believing their own hype in some of these elections.”

Mr Johnson was endorsed by 169 Conservatives before the voting, which was fewer than the 180 needed for victory.

Later, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak tweeted: “The PM has won the confidence vote and now it’s time to move forward.

“Tomorrow we get back to work growing the economy and delivering better public services.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Housing Secretary Michael Gove also tweeted their support for Mr Johnson.

“Pleased that colleagues have backed the Prime Minister," Ms Truss said. "I support him 100 per cent. Now’s the time to get on with the job.”

Mr Gove said it was time to “focus on the people’s priorities” now that Mr Johnson has “secured” the trust of his party.

“The PM has secured the support of Conservative MPs," he said.

"Now we must carry out what we were elected to deliver — levelling up, cutting crime, securing the benefits of Brexit and improving public services.

“Let’s get on with delivery and focus on the people’s priorities.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that Mr Johnson won the vote “handsomely.”

“It’s a ballot," Mr Zahawi said. "Fifty plus one is a majority. Boris did much better than that.”

“I think the important thing to remember is that whichever side of the argument you’re on on this, the one thing we all believe in is democracy.

“I think the important thing to remember is that we only are able to deliver if we are united. I hope we can draw a line under this now and focus on delivery.

“All of my colleagues, whichever way they voted, know that we win the election when we are united. People don’t vote for divided parties, that’s my message.

"We’re democrats above everything else and I think you’ll find every colleague, even those who voted against the prime minister tonight, will agree with that statement.”

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said the result of the confidence vote was a “lot better” than he had feared.

“I think it’s a good win," the Lichfield MP told PA.

When told there were more votes against Mr Johnson than there were against Theresa May in 2019, Mr Fabricant said: “Theresa May then decided to do a deal with Labour to have a second referendum. That ain’t gonna happen, so there is no comparison.”

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said it was a “comfortable” and “clear” win.

“I think the country would rightly be very, very upset if we as a party decided to ignore ... what the wider party said when they elected him leader, what the country said when they made him prime minister and what the bulk of Conservative MPs have now said today, which is that they want him to stay," he said.

“So, people have got to recognise they didn’t get the vote of no confidence through and what they should now do is say, ‘OK, we respect the democratic decision of the party, we are going to support the prime minister in getting on with the job’.

“It was a comfortable win. It was a clear win. And I’ll tell you something, if there is any other candidate who thinks they are going to get 60 per cent of the parliamentary party rallying around him, good luck with that.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said it was “time to get back to the job of governing".

“The person [Labour leader Sir Keir] Starmer doesn’t want to face at an election is Boris Johnson, who secured the biggest Conservative majority since 1987 and the highest share of the vote of any party since 1979, with 14 million votes.

“Time to get back to the job of governing.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “That result is surely the worst of all worlds for the Tories.

“But much more importantly, at a time of huge challenge, it saddles the UK with an utterly lame duck PM.

“And for Scotland, it just underlines the democratic deficit. Only two of [Scotland’s] 59 MPs have confidence in the PM.”

Sir Keir said a “divided” Conservative Party was “propping up” Mr Johnson after he survived the confidence vote.

“The choice is clearer than ever before: Divided Tories propping up Boris Johnson with no plan to tackle the issues you are facing,” he said, "or a united Labour Party with a plan to fix the cost-of-living crisis and restore trust in politics.

"Labour will get Britain back on track.”

Before Monday's vote, Mr Johnson had faced months of growing insurrection over successive scandals surrounding his tenure in Downing Street, including a damning report on parties held there while social mixing was banned in the country.

Party members have seen the goodwill accumulated in his strong election performance three years ago wiped out.

One of the symbols of his 2019 election victory, the northern member Dehenna Davison, said she voted against Boris Johnson.

"Though it is a secret ballot, it feels right to share with you how I voted," Ms Davison wrote on Facebook.

"This is not a decision I took lightly. I listened carefully to all sides, and particularly to the many constituents who contacted me sharing their thoughts and experiences.

"Weighing it all up, I voted against the prime minister tonight. I hope that, whatever the result, we politicians can now fully focus on the things we were elected to do for you."

Ms Davison turned the seat of Bishop Auckland to the Conservatives, breaking the Labour stranglehold there for the first time since the 1930s.

In a move that sought to capitalise on the weakness of the man who beat him to the leadership in 2019, Jeremy Hunt called on the Conservative Party to decide it wanted to change its leader.

“Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change,” Mr Hunt wrote. “Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve.

“We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country.

“And because we are no longer trusted by the electorate, who know this too, we are set to lose the next general election.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves from the back entrance of Downing Street in London, Britain June 6, 2022.  REUTERS / Toby Melville

A survey of more than 1,000 respondents on the Conservative Home website found most against Mr Johnson for the first time.

It said that if Tory MPs should vote to remove Mr Johnson, 55 per cent would back the move and 41 per cent would be against, with 3 per cent saying they did not know.

Mr Johnson was greeted by the traditional banging of desks as he addressed Tory MPs in a private meeting in Westminster, telling them “to stop talking about ourselves and start talking exclusively about what we are doing for the people of this country”.

“The people in this room won the biggest electoral victory for the Conservatives for 40 years under my leadership," he said.

In a letter to his parliamentary colleagues at the start of the day, Mr Johnson offered some humility but also described a golden opportunity to move on from the culture of recrimination.

“I know that over recent months I have come under a great deal of fire, and I know that experience has been painful for the whole party," he wrote.

“Some of that criticism has perhaps been fair, some less so. Where there have been valid points, I have listened and learned and made significant changes.

"And I will of course continue to listen and learn from colleagues about the improvements you wish to see."

Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House, was first in line to cast his ballot and behind him Cabinet ministers waited patiently, some chatting with colleagues, others ignoring those they knew were rebels.

After an hour of voting, protection officers appeared in the corridor outside the large Committee Room 10 where the ballot was cast.

Minutes later Mr Johnson, followed by his Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, appeared without his usual show of ebullience, muttering under his breath as he passed The National.

He was the 298th of 359 MPs to vote, appearing half an hour after his predecessor Theresa May had cast her ballot.

The former prime minister appeared in elegant evening wear, with a sheer black top and gold necklace, smiling as she chatted to a colleague, perhaps reflecting on her on confidence vote in 2018 that was largely orchestrated by Mr Johnson and his Brexit colleagues.

Gavin Barwell, who as chief of staff led Mrs May's fightback in a confidence vote in 2018, said Mr Johnson could face new challenges when the result of two by-elections is known on June 23.

"Four Conservative leaders have faced a vote of confidence during my adult life," Mr Barwell said.

"Three of them won, but two of those were gone within a year and the third got hammered at the subsequent general election.

"So the omens of him surviving and winning again are not good."

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Updated: June 07, 2022, 10:33 AM