LONDON — Boris Johnson survived a leadership challenge after Tory MPs failed to oust him in a dramatic internal vote on Monday night.
Britain’s prime minister, facing growing rebellion over the so-called Partygate scandal, won a Conservative Party vote of confidence triggered after enough Tory MPs turned on him to launch the party’s process to challenge its leaders.
Johnson won by 211 votes to 148 in a secret ballot of Tory MPs. The result means he retains the confidence of 59% of his parliamentary party.
In theory, under existing Conservative Party rules, Johnson cannot face another leadership challenge for another 12 months. But in practice he remains under heavy pressure, with Tory backbench leader Graham Brady confirming that “there is a possibility that the rules will be changed” if there was enough desire among Tory MPs in the weeks to come. come.
The split in Johnson’s favor is even worse than the result former Prime Minister Theresa May achieved in 2018, when deep divisions over her approach to Brexit led to a vote of confidence among her MPs. On that occasion, nearly two-thirds of Tory MPs – 63% – voted to keep May in office, but she was still forced to resign less than six months later.
Even so, a senior party official had already indicated ahead of the vote that the prime minister would continue in his role should the outcome be anything other than outright defeat.
“A vote is a victory,” the senior Conservative official told reporters. “At the end of the day, one team comes home victorious.”
The vote was called early Monday morning after Brady, who chairs the so-called 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, confirmed he had received letters of no confidence from at least 15 per cent of MPs in Johnson – the threshold required to trigger a formal vote.
Johnson’s popularity declined significantly after his premiership was engulfed by the Partygate scandal, with revelations about several illegal parties organized by government staff in Downing Street during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Johnson himself was fined by British police for attending such a rally, and his leadership was the subject of a highly critical report into the scandal last month by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Addressing MPs in a closed meeting ahead of the vote, Johnson urged fellow Tories to save his job and “refuse to dance to the beat of the media”, officials said.
“There have been difficult times before. I can restore trust,” Johnson added.
News that a vote was due to take place sparked a civil war within Tory ranks, as MPs spent Monday publicly declaring whether they still backed Johnson.
His former leadership rival Jeremy Hunt – the bookmakers’ favorite to succeed him – was the first to emerge from the blocks with an apparent leadership offer.
“The decision today is change or lose,” Hunt wrote in a series of critical tweets. “I will vote for change. Hunt faced scathing criticism from close Johnson ally Nadine Dorries, who offensive Hunt’s record in government for six years as Health Secretary.
Johnson also faced the resignation of his anti-corruption czar, John Penrose, who said it was “clear” that the prime minister had breached the written code that governs ministerial conduct and should resign.
On Monday night, Johnson’s party leader in Scotland also turned on the Prime Minister – again.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross confirmed ahead of the poll that he would vote to oust Johnson, completing a sequence of events that saw Ross initially call for Johnson’s resignation in January, quashing that call in March due to the war in Ukraine, then declare in That the Prime Minister will not step down until the war is over.
Eleni Courea contributed reporting.