What is the role of the 1922 Committee in deciding Boris Johnson's future?

Body for backbench MPs could change rules to see a second confidence vote in prime minister this year

A man protests against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside the Houses of Parliament in London.  The 22 refers to the 1922 Committee, which has the power to push Mr Johnson out of government. EPA
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The timetable for another no confidence vote in Boris Johnson's leadership could be drastically shortened if senior Tories back a rule change on Wednesday night.

Under the current rules of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, the Prime Minister cannot face another challenge within a year of what was a shaky victory last month.

But this could be torn up if the group’s executive proceeds with a proposed rule change, as Mr Johnson’s authority evaporates with a series of ministerial resignations.

How does the 1922 Committee work?

Nominations open on Wednesday for candidates in elections to the 1922 Conservative Party backbench committee, with the shape of the new panel set to develop a week later, as it looks set to play a crucial role in the future of Britain’s prime minister.

The forum that governs Conservative Party rules has arrived at possibly the most powerful and important juncture in its 99-year history, as nominations close for 16 places on its executive board.

It takes its name from an effort to represent the views of Conservatives elected in 1922, at a time when the party was divided over trade policy. It has acted as the linchpin of the party since.

Over the course of a few hours on July 13, No 10 Downing Street will discover whether the 16 elected MPs are composed of those believed to either favour Boris Johnson continuing as leader or if the balance has tilted against him remaining in power.

The committee’s importance stems from its ability to set the rules, and the new board has the power to move quickly to organise a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson, a little more than a month since the last effort to depose him fell short.

Will the rules change?

Under current rules, the prime minister is immune from a second confidence vote for precisely 12 months since the poll on June 6, in which 148 of his MPs voted against him and 211 backed the incumbent.

That vote was triggered by at least 15 per cent of the parliamentary party, or 54 MPs, sending letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the committee.

In a briefing to Westminster journalists on June 6, Sir Graham admitted the rules could be changed with ease should the committee so decide. That ability is what makes the July 13 vote a vital moment for both dissenters and supporters.

Only backbenchers can vote for the six executive and 12 officers' posts, meaning the estimated 160 MPs on the government payroll — ministers and parliamentary private secretaries — are ineligible.

Given that the majority of the 144 no-confidence voters were backbenchers in the secret poll, the committee could be heavily weighted against Mr Johnson.

Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, announces that Boris Johnson survived an attempt by Tory MPs to oust him as party leader after a confidence vote in his leadership last month. PA

If the rebels gain control, they will be able to change the rules “in an afternoon”, which would not rule out a second confidence vote before Parliament's summer recess starts on July 21.

There is a suggestion that an acceptable compromise would be that the second poll would require 25 per cent of the parliamentary party, or 90 MPs, to write letters triggering a vote.

That prospect is causing considerable concern among Mr Johnson’s loyalists. Nadine Dorries, the outspoken Culture Secretary, has gone as far as suggesting the whip should be removed from those MPs who want to change the rules.

It is understood there are three groups of MPs running for the executive: pro-Johnson followers, people who are anti-Johnson but oppose a rule change, and those gunning for another confidence vote.

The second category is concerned that the change would make it difficult for any future prime minister to govern under the looming threat of regular no-confidence votes.

But with the apparent dissembling by Downing Street over the Chris Pincher affair and growing discontent over Mr Johnson’s leadership, that could well happen, particularly if Steve Baker, the well-organised and articulate anti-Johnson candidate, is elected.

“Mr Baker’s election to the committee should be a cause for deep unease in No 10,” said one MP. “He knows how to organise and how to get the numbers.”

With summer recess eight days after the vote, it is not expected that a rule-change will happen until the autumn, probably after the privileges committee reports on whether Mr Johnson misled the Commons over the partygate scandal.

That could take place around December and even then, it is not guaranteed Mr Johnson would be unseated.

“In terms of getting rid of a party leader, you have to have a fairly clear idea of who should be installed in his place,” a former minister told The National.

“At the moment is there is no clear alternative to Boris. No one has that sufficient critical mass of support to be confident that they could win. That’s why the efforts to get rid of him so far have proved a failure.”

What would the new rule book look like?

Various possibilities have been floated, including reducing the safety net from 12 to six months, which could mean a vote in early December.

Others reportedly want the issue of Mr Johnson’s future decided before the Commons break for recess.

One compromise suggested is that a second confidence vote could be held if 25 per cent of Tories in the Commons — 90 MPs — submit letters to the 1922 leadership.

What does the executive say?

As a growing number of Conservative MPs turned on Mr Johnson, one major intervention during Prime Minister’s Questions came from Gary Sambrook.

The 1922 executive member blasted Mr Johnson for his handling of the Chris Pincher fiasco, suggesting there is “nothing left for him to do other than to take responsibility and resign”.

One committee source said suggestions that the rule change could be made on Wednesday were being spread by the “anti-Boris lot”.

Will the PM go quietly?

Mr Johnson would stay and fight any fresh confidence vote, his press secretary said, though she described last month’s ballot as “clear and decisive”.

She also said the prime minister is confident he retains the support of his backbenchers.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 4:57 AM
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