Boris Johnson sets out case to secure leadership after surviving confidence vote

Prime Minister meets his Cabinet after major rebellion in leadership challenge

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a meeting with his senior ministers at Downing Street on Tuesday. Getty
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Boris Johnson on Tuesday sought to “draw a line” under the ethics scandals that have damaged his authority as Britain’s Prime Minister, after winning a bruising confidence vote that exposed his perilous position.

Mr Johnson drew his senior ministers together and told them to “focus exclusively” on bread-and-butter issues such as inflation and inequality, and hinted at future tax cuts and improvements to public services as he tries to claw back support.

Monday’s ballot of Conservative MPs saw Mr Johnson survive by 211 votes to 148 but the rebellion was larger than expected and revealed broad discontent on the Tory backbenches.

Although a loss of public trust over the Partygate scandal was the main grievance, MPs also cited a lack of direction, policy disputes and the belief that Mr Johnson is on course to lose the next election, expected in 2024.

The pound fell to near three-week lows as investors drew little confidence from Mr Johnson’s victory, which was narrower than a similar vote in 2018 for his predecessor Theresa May — who resigned only months later.

But Cabinet ministers rallied around Mr Johnson on Monday and urged rebel MPs not to trigger a long and bitter leadership contest, at a time of war in Europe and economic woes at home.

Mr Johnson told them at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the government could now “draw a line under the issues that our opponents want to talk about”.

“We are going to get on with the massive agenda that we were elected to deliver in 2019,” he said in televised opening remarks.

As well as offering tax cuts in a bid on Monday to win over wavering MPs, Mr Johnson suggested speeding up waiting times for passports and driving licences.

He said ministers would “get on with talking about what I think the people of this country want us to talk about, and what we are doing to help them … we're going to focus exclusively on that”.

The confidence vote was triggered after 54 Tory MPs submitted formal requests for a ballot. Although that procedure cannot be repeated for 12 months, previous prime ministers have stepped down despite surviving confidence votes when their political fortunes did not improve.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Mr Johnson was “mortally wounded” given the number of Tory MPs who no longer have confidence in him.

“I think he is doing a disservice to the country and it is pretty clear now that the British public have lost all confidence in Boris Johnson,” she told Sky News.

Labour has led in the polls since the Partygate scandal broke, unnerving some Tory MPs only two-and-a-half years after the Conservative Party won its biggest parliamentary majority since 1987.

Mr Johnson apologised for what civil service investigator Sue Gray described as failures of leadership in Downing Street, after her report laid out details of late-night partying by officials while the country was in lockdown.

He paid a £50 ($63) fine for an illegal gathering on his birthday in 2020 but denied having misled Parliament about what had happened.

Updated: June 07, 2022, 10:31 AM