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'In the name of God, go': Defiant Boris Johnson faces Tory defections and plot to oust him

Downing Street said Johnson would have further meetings with MPs today as he attempted to shore up support on his backbenches.

Updated Jan 19th 2022, 5:55 PM

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

AN EMBATTLED BORIS Johnson chose defiance in the face of defections and anger among his own MPs in a rowdy House of Commons this afternoon.

Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle intervened on several occasions to restore order, as MPs raged amid the increasing fallout from social events in Downing Street during lockdown. 

Johnson spoke during Prime Minister’s Questions amid reports that the 54 letters which would launch a no confidence vote in him from his own MPs could be received today.

Reports last night suggested MPs furious at the Prime Minister’s handling of the partygate scandal engulfing Westminster had been angered further by Johnson’s insistence that nobody had told him a party at Downing Street would break rules he himself had set.

Tory MPs in traditionally Labour areas, so-called Red Wall seats, were said to be especially angry at Johnson’s denials, with many of them elected in 2019 with slim majorities. 

One of them, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, yesterday called for Johnson to go but today confirmed that he had left Johnson’s Conservative party altogether to join the Labour benches. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer today welcomed Wakeford to the fold, telling the House of Commons: 

Like so many people up and down the country, he has concluded that the Prime Minister the Conservative Party have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves whereas the Labour Party stands ready to provide an alternative government.

A defiant Johnson said that his party had won the seat in Bury “for the first time in generations” and “we will win again”. 

A Downing Street press secretary has said Johnson will have further meetings with MPs today as he attempted to shore up support on his backbenches.

Referring to Wakeford, the press secretary said: “I think we’re obviously sorry to see a colleague – who was elected by constituents, who voted for a Boris Johnson-led government – leave and attempt to put Keir Starmer into No 10, which will be a disaster for the country.”

The press secretary also said that Johnson would lead his party into the next election.

When asked if he would also fight any no confidence vote in him by his party and whether he was the best man for the job, the press secretary said: “Yes.”

She said: “Our focus is very clear in terms of delivering the ambitious agenda that we have set out, that we were elected on in 2019, and we want to continue to work together as Conservatives to deliver this.”

The press secretary said she was not aware of any further impending defections of Tory MPs.

She said: “The Prime Minister understands the anger and the hurt that these ongoing allegations have caused across the country and in Parliament and that’s why he’s addressed these allegations where he has been able to, and why we are having an investigation to establish the full facts of what has happened.”

Setting out what Johnson had been saying to MPs he had met with, she said: “The broad message of all of these meetings is to focus on what we’ve delivered for the country so far since we were elected, from getting Brexit done to record investments in local transport and infrastructure, to tackling this unprecedented pandemic, and we’ve consistently made tough decisions which have resulted in us being in the position we’re in now.”

‘No excuse’

The first question for Johnson during PMQs this afternoon was from Liberal Democrat Wendy Chamberlain MP who said that there was “no excuse” for Johnson’s denials and that it was time for him to resign. 

In response, Johnson said that “misjudgments that were made” by his administration but that Chamberlain should “contain her impatience” and wait for the results of the inquiry being undertaken by former civil servant of Sue Gray. 

Starmer attacked Johnson for “absurd and frankly unbelievable defences” and accused his government of unravelling. 

Amid shouts from the Conservative MPs, Starmer joked that the party’s chief had told them “to bring their own booze”, a reference to the invite to a Downing Street garden event sent by Johnson’s secretary secretary Martin Reynolds sent to more than 100 staff.  

Johnson attempted to change his point of defence by accusing Starmer of attempting to slow the UK’s reopening from restrictions.

“If we’d listened to the Labour front bench in the run up to Christmas and the New Year, we would have stayed in a restrictions the huge damage to the economy. It’s because of the government’s decisions that I’ve taken, we’ve taken, that we now have the fastest growing economy in the G7,” he said. 

Johnson also confirmed that ‘Plan B’ measures aimed at tackling the spread of Covid-19 are to be dropped across England.

People will no longer be told to work from home and, from Thursday next week when Plan B measures lapse, mandatory Covid passes will end, Johnson said.

The legal requirement for people with coronavirus to self-isolate will also be allowed to lapse when the regulations expire on 24 March and that date could be brought forward.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The decision to scrap measures did not placate Conservative former minister David Davis MP who called for the Prime Minister to resign.

Davis told  Johnson he had spent weeks defending him from “angry constituents”, including by reminding them of the “successes of Brexit”.

He said: “I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. So, I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain.

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.”

Ousting 

A number of newspapers have reported a concerted plot among Tory MPs to oust Johnson.

MPs from the former so-called Red Wall were said to have met yesterday to discuss Johnson’s future in a gathering nicknamed the “pork pie plot” or the “pork pie putsch”, and one told The Daily Telegraph the 15% of letters needed to trigger a challenge could be reached today.

Johnson, who was reported to have spent yesterday evening in his Commons office meeting with potential rebels, apologised multiple times in a major broadcast interview for “misjudgments that were made”.

But he stuck to his defence that he had thought a “bring your own booze” party held in the No 10 garden on 20 May 2020 had been a work event and he had not been warned about it in advance.

Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings threw that into doubt on Monday as he said he would “swear under oath” Johnson was told about the bash.

But asked if he had lied to Parliament over the parties as he visited a north London hospital, the PM told broadcasters: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgments that I’ve made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.

Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that … was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.

Johnson said he “can’t imagine why on Earth it would have gone ahead, or why it would’ve been allowed to go ahead” if he had been told it was anything but a “work event”.

“I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event,” he said.

Johnson confirmed he had given evidence to an inquiry being carried out into Whitehall parties during lockdown restrictions by senior official Sue Gray.

And the PA news agency understands Cummings has also agreed to speak to the civil servant who has been described as “formidable”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the Prime Minister his unequivocal backing on yesterday, as Johnson made his first public appearance after reducing his contacts last week, when No 10 said a family member had tested positive for Covid-19.

But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries came out to bat for the PM, telling The Times those manoeuvring against him were “being disloyal to the Prime Minister, the party, their constituents and the wider country”.

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Johnson insisted he only saw the “bring your own booze” invite his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent to more than 100 staff “the other day … when it emerged”.

Front pages

Front pages of almost all UK newspapers today have focused on the fallout from Johnson’s lockdown party reports. 

The Guardian carries Tory MPs plotting against their leader, with the paper saying anger was further stoked by his “disastrous” TV interview last night where the PM claimed not to have lied about Downing Street parties.

The Daily Telegraph writes that Johnson is set to scrap Plan B Covid restrictions as claims surface that Tory MPs elected in 2019 are planning a rebellion against the PM.

Inquiry

The British Prime Minister declined to say whether he would resign if it was proved he did intentionally mislead Parliament, instead pleading for patience ahead of Gray delivering the verdict of her partygate inquiry, which is not expected until the end of this week at the earliest.

He appeared distressed as he faced questions about two events in No 10 last April on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, during which the Queen sat alone as she mourned.

The Prime Minister audibly breathed heavily behind his mask as he said: “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.

“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”

Of those Tory MPs withholding their judgement for now, many accepted that if Johnson was found to have misled Parliament, he would have to resign.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab accepted Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he intentionally misled Parliament, while Mid Derbyshire Conservative MP Pauline Latham told Times Radio: “If he has lied to Parliament, there will be no choice.”

She said: “At the end of the day, he made the rules, he was in that briefing room looking at the cameras saying this is what you have to do. So you can’t say didn’t know what the rules were. We all knew what the rules were.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Johnson “needs to go”.

“I think he’s trying to take the British public for fools. He’s not sorry that he clearly attended a party, knows it’s against the rules; he’s sorry he got caught for it,” she told the PA news agency.

“I think people are incredibly frustrated.”

But she added: “He won’t, of course, and now it’s up to his MPs to do the right thing.”

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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