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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Jason Cairnduff/PA Boris Johnson during a visit to the technology centre at Hopwood Hall College in Manchester, England.
UK Politics

Not a ‘chance in hell’ Boris Johnson will step aside voluntarily, Tory peer says

Gavin Barwell, who served as chief of staff to Theresa May and now sits in the House of Lords, said there was a “strong case for change”.

THERE IS NOT “a chance in hell” that Boris Johnson will stand down voluntarily, a Tory peer has said, as a former UK Conservative Pary leader warned it would be a “very difficult task” to win back the trust of the public.

Gavin Barwell, who served as chief of staff to Theresa May and now sits in the House of Lords, said there was a “strong case for change” at the top of the UK government.

But he said Johnson would not leave office of his own accord.

Speaking on Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme, Barwell said: “My inclination is that the Conservative Party would be better making a change and I also think, for the good of the country in terms of trust and faith in our politics, there’s a strong case for change.

“But it’s not up to me to make a decision. Ultimately, this is a decision that, up until the next election at least, is one for Conservative MPs.”

He added: “I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that the Prime Minister is going to voluntarily resign.

“He’s going to stay there unless Conservative MPs remove him or unless he loses an election. And so, you know, I don’t see any prospect of him voluntarily standing down.”

Meanwhile, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the Downing Street partygate saga and its aftermath had been “hugely damaging” and the public were “very angry”.

Asked whether it was possible to recover the reputation of the party with Boris Johnson remaining as Prime Minister, he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “None of us know the answer to that question… Respect and trust you have to earn, and when you lose it, it’s very difficult task to get it back across the board.

“And so that’s going to be a huge task. The Government and the Prime Minister have set out to try and do that.”

It comes as the UK Prime Minister attempts to reset his premiership by bringing in two allies to Downing Street in senior roles.

Johnson has appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay as his chief of staff, and journalist Guto Harri as his director of communications.

But questions have been asked about how much time Barclay will be able to commit to the role while also being a Cabinet minister and an MP.

Comments made by Harri criticising the Prime Minister in recent weeks have also surfaced.

Barwell said Barclay would have to find “a different way” to do the job than he did “because he’s combining it with being a Government minister and an MP at the same time, so he’s going to have to find a way of doing the job in a different way”.

He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “And then the second challenge, and I think probably the key one, is whether the Prime Minister is going to listen to the good advice that he will give.”

He added: “There’s only so much different advisers can make if the person at the top is not actually listening to the advice that we’re giving.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it was “absolutely right” for the Prime Minister to “try and get the Cabinet Office and No 10 working more cohesively together” with his new appointments.

He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News that this was recommended in Sue Gray’s report into parties held across Whitehall during Covid-19 measures, and that it had been “very difficult to see where the accountability was”.

He said the “ongoing focus on partygate is not helping anyone”, telling the BBC: “We’ve got a serious agenda, we’ve got a potential war situation in Ukraine… Russia developing… we’ve got cost of living issues to deal with, there are very serious concerns about how we bounce back from the pandemic.

“So I don’t think focusing on the parties is necessarily the best way for us to get through this.”

Some 15 Tory MPs have now publicly called for Johnson to resign but not all have sent letters of no confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady.

Privately, the numbers are expected to be higher, but Kwarteng told Times Radio: “My own view is that we’re probably not that near the letters [threshold] but I don’t know – until we reach that point I think it’s idle speculation.”

Charles Walker, a former vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, told The Observer Johnson’s departure was an “inevitable tragedy”.

But Kwarteng said this was not the case.

He told Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “He’s entitled to his view, as I’m entitled to mine.

“And I have to say Trevor, you know this, lots and lots of people have said things are inevitable and they never happened over the last few years, and I just want to wait and see.”

Iain Duncan Smith said he still thought Johnson was the right person to lead “at the moment”.

“My sense right now is that if we go and plunge ourselves into a leadership election, vote of confidence – which in the end always damages leaders even if they win it – and then maybe a leadership election, internecine warfare, in the midst of which we’re facing a big cost of living crisis.. [getting the cost of living crisis] sorted, that is our number one priority,” he said.

He said other political players who may be vying for a leadership bid should “temper their ambition” for now.

“Ambition is a thing that exists in all of us, but it’s ambition at the right time. I would say to people, ‘temper your ambition’,” he said.

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