The British Conservatives’ vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the so-called “Partygate” scandal has failed. But the result was closer than expected. Only 211 of his parliamentary group colleagues expressed their confidence in the prime minister on Monday evening in London. 148 Tory MPs voted to vote Johnson out of office as party leader and thus also as prime minister – because the offices are linked.
A vote of no confidence will be held under British Conservative rules if 15 per cent of the group votes no confidence in the PM. This threshold was reached on Sunday with corresponding messages from at least 54 of the 359 Tory MPs, as the chairman of the responsible party committee, Graham Brady, announced Monday morning. The vote was held later that evening.
Johnson had come under pressure after details came to light about parties at his Downing Street office during the corona lockdowns, some of which were excessive. The conservative politician tolerated the celebrations and even attended some of them. An investigation report accused those responsible in Downing Street of leadership failure. Johnson was fined for attending an illegal lockdown party, becoming the first UK Prime Minister to be proven to have broken the law.
But it wasn’t just his lax attitude toward his own rules that got Johnson’s opponents in his own party on the barricades. Tory MP and long-time Johnson companion Jesse Norman accused the prime minister of endangering the unity of the country, among other things. He described the confrontational course with Brussels on the Northern Ireland question as “economically very damaging, politically foolish and almost certainly illegal”.
He described Johnson’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda as “ugly, likely counterproductive and of dubious legality.” However, he does not have a long-term political agenda. “Instead, you’re just trying to campaign, constantly changing the subject and creating political and cultural divides mostly for your own benefit,” Norman continued.
Also of concern to Johnson was that the rebellion did not appear to be coming from just one wing of the party. For example, his critics include both die-hard Brexit supporters such as Steve Baker and ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis, as well as retainers such as Tobias Ellwood, who recently called for a return to the EU single market.
For months, party colleagues had repeatedly called on Johnson to resign. The attempt to chase him out of office has now failed for the time being. Under current party rules, no further no-confidence vote may be attempted against Johnson for a period of twelve months.
The next crisis for Johnson looms when by-elections are held in two English constituencies on June 23. In at least one of them, the Tories must brace themselves for a heavy defeat.