Tory backbenchers demand Boris Johnson reshuffles his team to prevent fresh rebellion

British prime minister on 'probation' to allow major change to party leadership, MPs tell 'The National'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his first appearance in Parliament on Wednesday since surviving a no-confidence vote by his own Conservative MPs that has undermined his leadership. AFP
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Conservative backbenchers have insisted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson conducts a major reshuffle of his Cabinet to prevent another rebellion against his leadership.

It is understood that the prime minister could make significant changes to key posts in government within days following Monday’s vote of confidence.

There is a possibility that one of the top posts — chancellor, foreign secretary or home secretary — could see a change, in an attempt to placate the 148 MPs who voted against Mr Johnson.

But the prime minister can take some heart from a lacklustre Prime Minister’s Questions performance by Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday.

The Labour leader appeared to deliberately steered clear of reference to the confidence vote, potentially in a ploy to avoid uniting the Conservatives against a common enemy.

While Sir Keir made laboured points about the National Health Service, Mr Johnson was able to state his government’s substantial investments, growing in confidence as every unchallenged minute passed.

“Keir somehow missed an open goal,” said one insider.

It was left to Labour backbencher Angela Eagle to land the strongest blow.

“If 148 of his own backbenchers don't trust him, why on earth should the country?” she asked.

Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Leader in Westminster, provided the most lively performance as he harangued Mr Johnson over Monday’s poll in which 59 per cent of his MPs voted for him.

“The prime minister has been acting like the Monty Python’s Black Knight — running around claiming, ‘it’s only a flesh wound’,” he declared.

The jibe allowed Mr Johnson to return to form, showing the box office draw that makes him an election winner, and dismissed Mr Blackford, whose party wants independence for Scotland, using a reference to strong glue.

“He is the Araldite keeping our kingdom together and I thank him for what he’s doing,” he quipped to cheers from his own benches.

Protestors hold placards depicting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside of the houses of Parliament in London. Reuters

But that support could rapidly ebb if Mr Johnson fails to address the disharmony in his party, starting with a Cabinet clear-out, that could potentially occur this week.

“The prime minister needs a reshuffle to replace some very poor people very quickly,” a veteran backbencher told The National. “He needs a root and branch clear-out.”

Another MP stated that the leader “does not have the luxury of time” for a reshuffle and added: “If I’d been in his position, it would have happened already, it’s as urgent as that.

“He does not have the luxury of time. He cannot hang around, we need to see quick changes, especially the chancellor, who is not up to the job.”

The prime minister’s press secretary told the media that there were “no plans” for reshuffle. However the last time this was said, a reshuffle took place a day later.

Given the events of Monday, Conservative MPs appear for now to have put Mr Johnson on probation until the autumn — until at least September, one MP said — when the outcome of the Privileges Committee investigation into him allegedly misleading Parliament has ended.

“He has to really improve things,” said one of the MPs, who also called for tax cuts. “He needs to listen to senior people in the party and take some advice and make significant improvements.

“People would respect the prime minister if he addressed the problems rather than putting them on the backburner like he normally does.”

He added: “It’s been a very difficult period but in a funny sort of way, the vote has cleared the air but that’s only temporary.”

Towards the end of Prime Minister’s Questions, the apparent favourite to replace Mr Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, appeared in the standing area of the Commons chamber, looking left and right at the government and opposition benches.

It was perhaps a reminder for Mr Johnson of his circling rivals, waiting for the chance to replace him.

Updated: June 08, 2022, 4:28 PM