- Boris Johnson could be ‘only a dozen’ letters away from a vote of no-confidence, MPs told Insider.
- A threshold of 54 out of 360 Tory MPs signalling no-confidence would trigger a leadership challenge.
- Sources said allies of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak were leading the charge. One estimated that some 40 letters were in.
Boris Johnson’s “political death” is near, Conservative backbenchers told Insider on Wednesday morning, as a campaign to oust him as party leader and Prime Minister gained momentum.
Johnson is facing a rebellion that cuts across divisions within the Tory party. A group of the 2019 intake — the newest, and in theory most loyal MPs — are among those to have sent in letters of no confidence, some of the MPs said.
If 54 of the 360 Tory MPs send no-confidence letters to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, it will trigger a formal leadership contest. How many letters are submitted is a closely-guarded secret, leading to intense speculation.
At least two meetings of the relatively newcomers took place this week, according to an MP who was invited to one of them.
The MP, like the others in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plotting against the party’s leadership.
The BBC reported speculation that Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, was involved. It also cited unnamed allies of Kearns who insisted she is not leading any rebellion.
An interview by Johnson’s yesterday — in which he hung his head while being questioned about the party that took place on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral and insisted “nobody told me” it was against the rules — fuelled his critics.
Last night saw multiple Tory MPs, including William Wragg and Chris Green, mock efforts to defend Johnson.
Gavin Barwell, chief of staff under Theresa May, told BBC Radio 4 that Johnson was “digging himself into a hole”.
—Chris Green (@CGreenUK)
January 18, 2022
This morning one former cabinet minister told Insider that Johnson’s reaction to the questions was “shockingly awful” and “a sure sign of lying”.
The MP added: “For some, PMQs is a decider. For most, it’s already game over and the only decision is when.”
Speculation is rife in Westminster as to how many letters of no confidence arrived.
One MP who was a minister under Johnson until the most recent reshuffle said they thought about 40 of the 54 letters were in. He said that the prime minister’s foes were “only a dozen or so away without trying”.
One MP told Insider that the teams around leadership rivals Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss were “getting new MPs to put letters in and ask for support”.
The senior backbencher said supporters were “contacting colleagues saying how awful Boris is and then gently saying perhaps Rishi is the one to throw the ring in Mount Doom”, a reference to the finale of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
One MP allied with Truss said there was “no integrity, real incompetence, no leadership” in Downing Street. However, in a sign that some are still unwilling to take the step of indicating no-confidence, he said he had not yet sent a letter, although he was “happy for other people to do so”.
The MP added: “The question is whether this is a short death or a long, drawn-out death, but political death it is.”
But not everyone has written Johnson off. One former minister said: “I think we’re very close to a no-confidence vote that he’ll surely win. No idea what the plotters think that would achieve.”
Another former minister said he felt “massively let down and sickened by what has gone on” but would not take part in an “assassination plot against a sitting PM”.
However, he noted that Johnson’s future may still hinge on the looming official report into lockdown parties by civil servant Sue Gray, which has not yet been published.
Support, though, is ebbing. James Heappey, a defence minister who gave morning interviews Wednesday on behalf of the government, told BBC Radio 4: “I choose to believe what he said, but there’ll be millions of your listeners who won’t. That’s why Sue Gray is doing her investigation.”
Asked if he wanted Johnson to lead his party into the next election, Heappey said: “As things stand right now, yes.”