Boris Johnson warned no-confidence vote now inevitable, as ‘mood turns’

Boris Johnson has been warned by senior Conservatives that a no-confidence vote is now inevitable over the Partygate scandal, with one warning the mood had “turned against him”.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said a ballot on the prime minister’s future was a matter of “when not if”, as he urged fellow backbenchers to stop “drinking the Kool Aid” and force a change of leadership.

Tory peer Lord Hayward – the party’s influential polling expert – predicted a no-confidence vote within months after Mr Johnson was fined and the Commons ordered an inquiry into law-breaking parties in Downing Street.

“The mood has turned against the prime minister,” Lord Hayward told the BBC after speaking to Tory colleagues at Westminster. “Support for the prime minister has failed quite markedly… I expect there to be a challenge to his leadership from him. ”

Sir John Curtice told The Independent that Partygate is set to be a major problem for the Tories at the May local elections – saying that the party’s polling had got worse since the PM was fined for his law-breaking birthday bash.

“The story is not going to go away, the story has now got legs again,” the polling guru said. “The opposition is just going to keep on talking about it. All of this plays to Keir Starmer’s advantage.”

Professor Curtice said Labor had stretched its lead over the Tories by three points since Mr Johnson was handed a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police – leading to an average Labor poll lead of eight points.

It comes as the leader of the Tories in Sunderland said Mr Johnson has become an “embarrassment” to the party. Dr Antony Mullen said a new leader was “inevitable”, adding: “You can’t have a prime minister who breaks the law.”

Some 54 letters of no-confidence have to be sent to the chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers to trigger a vote. A majority of the party’s MPs – around 180 – must vote against Mr Johnson to remove him from office.

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper – who has called for Mr Johnson to step down – has predicted a no-confidence will be triggered before parliament’s summer recess in July.

Mr Ellwood also suggested the threshold would come in the coming months. “We’re going to see, I’m afraid, a steady trickle of letters, resignations,” he told Sky News. “It’s clear that more and more MPs are privately believing that it’s the time that the leadership baton is actually passed on.”

Lord Hayward said Tory MPs, peers and local associations fear “death by a thousand cuts” since the Partygate saga looks set to dog the PM through more police fines, the release of the full Sue Gray report and the privileges committee probe.

“They are moving to a position of saying, ‘This cannot go on’,” he told BBC’s World at Onesaying many in the party now wanted the question of the PM’s leadership “resolved” in the next few months.

Lord Barwell, former chief of staff to Theresa May, said Brexiteer MP Steve Baker’s call for Mr Johnson to go this week was significant. “If I was still working in No 10, I would be pretty worried about that intervention.”

However, loyal allies of Mr Johnson lashed out at Tory MPs calling for his removal. Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, who said there is “no question” of the PM stepping down and said backbench critics had “never really supported” him.

The loyal ally told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If the prime minister stepped off Westminster Bridge and walked on top of the water they would say he couldn’t swim – that is a fact.”

Defense minister Leo Docherty even claimed on Friday that Partygate was “done and dusted”, claiming that the British public was now “sick of it”.

Speaking at the Invictus Games in The Hague, the MP said: “It’s pretty much done and dusted in the sense that the prime minister’s apologized for the fixed-penalty notice he received. In my opinion I regard that as matter closed.”

Prof Curtice said public anger about Partygate was now “baked in” to opinion polling, and the widespread perception that Mr Johnson had lied about the issue would be very difficult to shift.

He said: “I think we’ve reached a point where the opposition probably thinks that Boris Johnson staying on is to their advantage. The Labor message is the ‘Tories want to hang onto a lawbreaker’. And they will keep on repeating it.”

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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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