Boris Johnson ‘fighting on’, but writing on the wall as Cabinet finally turns on him


Any semblance of party support collapsed on Wednesday, with Mr Johnson suffering more ministerial resignations in one day than any Prime Minister in history.

His day started with his own chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris telling him to quit and ended with Mr Johnson defiantly telling a cohort of other senior Cabinet ministers seeking to oust him that he wasn’t going anywhere.

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Mr Gove, the Government’s leveling up, housing and communities secretary, paid a heavy price last night as he was sacked after paying Mr Johnson a visit earlier in the day to also tell the Prime Minister to stand down.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing the end of his premiership.

And former Scotland secretary David Mundell announced he was quitting as UK trade envoy to New Zealand after saying he “very disappointed that the Prime Minister has not listened to the counsel of colleagues and stood down voluntarily in the interests of the country”.

Mr Johnson attending a grueling afternoon session at the liaison committee where he raised his voice repeatedly, before later facing ministers in No 10, where he was told he had lost the confidence of the Tory party and could not continue in office.

Those ministers are believed to have included transport secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and even his new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi.

Mr Shapps is thought to have told Mr Johnson that he stood little chance of winning another confidence vote and should instead set out a timetable for a departure on his own terms.

Home secretary Priti Patel, previously a staunch ally whom Mr Johnson had last year cleared of bullying allegations despite losing a head of ethics in the process, is also understood to have told the Conservative leader to stand down.

Welsh secretary Simon Hart was among others urging Mr Johnson to quit, as was business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, though not in person.

But Mr Johnson rejected suggestions he should seek a “more dignified exit”, as allies including culture secretary Nadine Dorries and Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg remained loyal.

Despite losing 14 ministers on Wednesday, a bullish Prime Minister told Cabinet ministers he would not quit, arguing it would cause “chaos” and see the Conservatives lose the next election.

For those in Downing Street, the message was mixed, with one source insisting Mr Johnson would “fight on”.

Another urged rebels to “sober up, smell the coffee and wake up.”

However, another told The Scotsman: “It’s 110 per cent over. We’re demoralized, distraught and distressed.”

Mr Johnson may not yet have much choice over the ultimate outcome, after a laughable performance at Prime Minister’s Questions met with stony silence from his own MPs.

He insisted the “colossal mandate” he had been handed by voters in 2019 meant he should keep going despite the “difficult circumstances” he faces.

But he now lacks support both in his Cabinet and among MPs, with one loyal supporter saying privately “he’s done, it’s just a matter of when he realizes it”.

PMQs also saw health secretary Sajid Javid, who resigned on Tuesday, lay bare the scale of the problems facing the Prime Minister.

Mr Javid said: “Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.

“I will never risk losing my integrity.

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“The problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change.”

In a message to Cabinet ministers who decided not to quit, Mr Javid added: “Not doing something is an active decision.

“I’m deeply concerned about how the next generation will see the Conservative Party on our current course.

“It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when they are not met by others.”

At the end of Mr Javid’s speech, the Prime Minister stormed out to cries of “bye bye Boris” from opposition MPs.

The mood among Tory MPs appeared grim on Wednesday night, with one saying they were “depressed, but relieved it would be over soon”.

Monday now looms as crucial to Mr Johnson’s political future, with the 1922 Committee set to hold new elections for his positions.

Rebels are confident of winning the seats, which would then allow them to change the rules on holding another no-confidence vote, removing the previous protection that prevented a repeat poll within one year after winning.

Despite all the bluster and defiance in certain aspects of Downing Street, it is believed defeat there would see Mr Johnson go.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, was thought to be in Downing Street communicating the views of backbenchers on Wednesday night following the meeting in Parliament dominated by MPs calling for Mr Johnson to go.

The talks came after the Prime Minister faced an intense grilling before opposition critics and Tory MPs alike on the Commons liaison committee, as the stream of ministerial resignations continued.

After being repeatedly pressed for a direct answer, Mr Johnson said “of course” he ruled out triggering a general election if the Tories forced him from office.

The 14 ministers to quit on Wednesday were Will Quince, Robin Walker, John Glen, Victoria Atkins, Jo Churchill, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien, Alex Burghart, Lee Rowley, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Rachel Maclean and Mike Freer.

Laura Trott, Felicity Buchan, Selaine Saxby, Claire Coutinho, David Johnston, Duncan Baker, Craig Williams and Mark Logan resigned as ministerial aides, while Fay Jones said she would quit on Thursday unless the Prime Minister goes.

It was such a bloodbath of resignations, Sky and BBC News deployed tickers to keep viewers updated as ministers fled the Government.

The PMQs session was equally uncomfortable for Mr Johnson.

Education select committee chairman Rob Halfon said he would back a change in leadership, criticizing not only a “real loss of integrity”, but also “a failure of policy”.

Transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman told the BBC Mr Johnson should resign if he had “any dignity left”.

Former Cabinet ministers Robert Jenrick and Liam Fox drew their support.

In a sign that discontent stretches across the party, Lee Anderson, one of the MPs elected in 2019 in Red Wall seats who largely owe their political careers to the Prime Minister, said he too had lost faith in the leader.

The Ashfield MP pointed to the row over the appointment of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher and said: “Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days.”

Later, at the liaison committee, Mr Johnson was directly asked whether Mr Gove had told him to resign, only to refuse to answer.

He insisted: “I’m here to talk about what the Government is doing.

“I’m not going to give a running commentary on political events.”

Mr Johnson also sought to use the conflict of Ukraine to justify his continued presence in Downing Street.

He said: “I can’t for the life of me see how it is responsible just to walk away from that.”

Earlier the leader of the Scottish Tories told the Prime Minister his “time is up” and he has to resign.

Douglas Ross claimed “more and more” of his colleagues now agree Mr Johnson should resign. He was publicly backed in his views of him by fellow Scottish Tory MPs David Duguid and Andrew Bowie, who both called for Mr Johnson to go.

Mr Ross said: “I said that, at the no-confidence vote two or three weeks ago, that I could not in good faith continue to have confidence in him and now we are seeing more and more colleagues have reached the same conclusion.”

Asked who would back in a Tory leadership election, Mr Ross said: “We will wait and see.”


www.scotsman.com

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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