Why Boris Johnson still isn't safe after surviving confidence vote

Boris Johnson may have scraped through a confidence vote last night, but he is not out of the woods just yet.

The narrow margin of victory has failed to put to bed questions about his future, with dozens of Tory MPs now in open revolt.

The prime minister won the ballot by 211-148 (59%), meaning he came closer to being ousted than Theresa May did in 2018, failing to surpass the 63% support she secured.

And although Ms May survived the vote, she was still forced out of the top job within six months.

History suggests Mr Johnson could be fatally damaged by the confidence vote, which spelt the beginning of the end not only for Ms May but also for Conservative predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher – all of whom scored proportionally better results than Mr Johnson yesterday.

What is a confidence vote and why was it held?

Tory rebels triggered a ballot on whether Mr Johnson should continue in Downing Street after months of scandal, with momentum picking up following the publication of the Sue Gray report into lockdown parties.

Under Tory party rules, a no confidence vote can be held if at least 54 MPs (15%) submit letters to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the influential 1922 committee, calling for a change in leadership – a threshold which was met on Sunday night.

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Had Mr Johnson lost the vote, he would have been forced to resign.

His win means he is technically safe in Number 10, but with an investigation into whether he misled parliament ongoing, and crucial by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton coming up, the political peril is far from over.

Could there be a second no confidence vote?

Once a Tory leader wins a no confidence vote by their MPs, the current rules state that they cannot be challenged again for at least a year.

However, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, said yesterday that the rules could be changed if the members wants them to.

Members have previously discussed shortening the grace period to hold another vote after six months.

If that happens and a second no confidence vote is triggered, another secret ballot of Tory MPs will be held.

Again, 50% of MPs need to vote ‘no confidence’ for the motion to pass.

In that event, the Tory leader must resign and a full leadership contest is held.

What happens next after no confidence vote?

Despite having won the vote, Mr Johnson still faces significant challenges.

On June 23, by-elections are being held to pick new MPs in two Tory constituencies: Wakefield – where former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy, and Tiverton and Honiton – where Conservative MP Neil Parish was forced to step down after watching porn in the House of Commons.

If the Tories lose the seats to opposition parties, as polls predict, the PM could find himself under renewed pressure to resign.

Another danger point is the Privileges Committee investigation into whether the PM lied to parliament when he claimed no coronavirus rules in Downing Street were broken during lockdown.

Opposition MPs say the 126 Met Police fines issued to him and dozens of his staff prove his assurances were dishonest, but the prime minister claims he was unaware offences had been committed when speaking in Parliament.

Under the ministerial code – which Mr Johnson has signed – anyone in government found to have knowingly misled MPs is ‘expected to resign’.

The outcome of the privileges investigation is not expected to autumn, and Tories are said to be bracing for for damaging leaks about the PM’s personal integrity.

One former Cabinet minister suggested to the Mirror there was a ‘pipeline of f***-ups ahead’.

Meanwhile, the PM is under mounting pressure to do more to tackle the cost of living crisis.

If he survives into the summer, another major moment for the prime minister will be the Tory Party Conference, where he will have to prove to Tory rebels he can restore their trust and set out the direction of his government.

Will Boris Johnson resign?

Allies of the PM don’t expect him to throw in the towel any time soon.

Cabinet ministers have repeatedly argued that Britain’s leading role supporting Ukraine means it would be the wrong time for him to go.

However, it is widely known that he has coveted the role of prime minister his whole life and is unlikely to give up on his ambition now, with sources previously saying he wanted to outlast Margaret Thatcher and remain in power for another decade.

Friends of the PM also say that his wife Carrie enjoys the perks of her husband’s status and would encourage him to cling onto power, according to the Mirror. One senior Tory rebel told the newspaper: ‘We’re going to have to prise his fingers off the gates of Downing Street if we ever want to get rid of him.’

Cabinet resignations

Boris Johnson will meet his Cabinet later today in a bid to shore up support with his top team amid talks of resignations.

In the build up to yesterday’s ballot there were suggestions that his allies had been offering jobs to dissuade potential rebels – sparking rumours of a possible reshuffle.

But it will be his current Cabinet that Mr Johnson needs onside today if he is to put the affair behind him.

Any resignations would further damage Mr Johnson’s leadership, as it shows his support is dwindling from the top.

Rebel MPs are expected to put pressure on the cabinet in the coming weeks, with one elected in 2019 telling the i newspaper: ‘It’s a substantial vote against the PM. I hope the Cabinet will do the right thing.’

And a former minister said: ‘The whole Cabinet are complicit in his failings. His failings are their failings. This is just going to keep rumbling on.’

Rebel Tories

Tory rebels have vowed to keep on trying to topple Mr Johnson.

The 148 MPs, or 40%, who voted against him, are said to be ‘implacably opposed’ to his leadership and determined to bring him down ‘no matter what’.

One tactic to force him out is for MPs to refuse to vote on the government’s legislation until the PM quits.

Ahead of last night’s vote, rebels were reported to be threatening that anything other than a convincing win would leave them no option but to obstruct key parliamentary votes.

Will there be an early General Election?

The next General Election is scheduled for Thursday, 2 May 2024. However, prime ministers can call an early one if they wish to – although the motion would need to be backed by two thirds of MPs for this to go ahead.

It had previously been suggested that the PM could call an early election to shore up support among the public if he narrowly survives the confidence vote – though ministers have publicly poured cold water on the idea.

Given the Tories are currently trailing behind Labour in polls, with the PM’s predicted to lose his own seat, it is very unlikely that he will choose to do this any time soon.

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