Sir Graham Brady announced there were enough letters from MPs demanding a vote on Johnson's leadership to trigger a no-confidence vote. Video / Guardian News
By Jill Lawless of AP
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a no-confidence vote from his own Conservative Party that could oust him from power, as discontent with his rule finally threatens to topple a politician who has often seemed invincible despite many scandals.
An outcome is expected by 8am New Zealand time.
The charismatic leader renowned for his ability to connect with voters has recently struggled to turn the page on revelations that he and his staff repeatedly held boozy parties that flouted the Covid-19 restrictions they imposed on others.
Still, with no clear front-runner to succeed Johnson, most political observers think he will defeat the challenge and remain prime minister. But the fact that enough lawmakers are demanding a vote represents a watershed moment for him — and a narrow victory would leave him a hobbled leader whose days are likely numbered. It is also a sign of deep Conservative divisions, less than three years after Johnson led the party to its biggest election victory in decades.
Since then, Johnson has led Britain out of the European Union and through a pandemic, both of which have shaken the UK socially and economically. The vote comes as Johnson's government is under intense pressure to ease the pain of skyrocketing energy and food bills.
Voting started at 5am (NZ time) and will finish at 7am, with the final result due to be announced by Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, at 8am.
Conservative Party official Graham Brady announced Monday that he had received letters calling for a no-confidence vote from at least 54 Tory legislators, enough to trigger the measure under party rules.
Hours later, party lawmakers lined up by the dozen in a corridor at Parliament to cast their ballots in a wood-paneled room, handing over their phones as they entered to ensure secrecy. The result was expected later Tuesday morning (NZ time).
To remain in office, Johnson needs to win the backing of a simple majority of the 359 Conservative lawmakers. If he doesn't, the party will choose a new leader, who will also become prime minister.
Johnson's Downing Street office said the prime minister welcomed the vote as "a chance to end months of speculation and allow the government to draw a line and move on".
Rees-Mogg just compared the future of democracy in the UK to a 2005 cricket match. Jesus wept. #channel4news #ConfidenceVote #BorisJohnson— ImYourNumber1Fan (@thelifeofmonty) June 6, 2022
Johnson addressed dozens of Conservative lawmakers in a House of Commons room on Monday in the UK as he tried to shore up support, vowing: "I will lead you to victory again."
Discontent that has been building for months erupted after a 10-day parliamentary break that included a long weekend of celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee. For many, the four-day holiday was a chance to relax — but there was no respite for Johnson, who was booed by some onlookers as he arrived for a service in the Queen's honour at St. Paul's Cathedral on Friday.
Brady said some lawmakers who submitted no-confidence letters had asked for them to be held back until after the Jubilee weekend — but even so, the threshold was still reached on Sunday.
Johnson's allies insist he will stay in office if he wins by even a single vote. But previous prime ministers who survived no-confidence votes emerged severely weakened. Theresa May, for instance, won one in 2018 but never regained her authority and resigned within months, sparking a leadership contest that was won by Johnson.
His selection in July 2019 capped a rollercoaster journey to the top. He had held major offices, including London mayor and UK foreign secretary, but also spent periods on the political sidelines after self-inflicted gaffes. He kept bouncing back, showing an uncommon ability to shrug off scandal and connect with voters that, for many Conservatives, overshadowed doubts about his ethics or judgment.
But concerns came to a head after an investigator's report late last month that slammed a culture of rule-breaking inside the prime minister's office in a scandal known as "partygate".
Civil service investigator Sue Gray described alcohol-fueled bashes held by Downing Street staff members in 2020 and 2021, when pandemic restrictions prevented UK residents from socialising or even visiting dying relatives.
Gray said the "senior leadership team" must bear responsibility for "failures of leadership and judgment".
Johnson also was fined 50 pounds ($96) by police for attending one party, making him the first prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.
The prime minister said he was "humbled" and took "full responsibility" — but insisted he would not resign. He urged Britons to "move on" and focus on righting the battered economy and helping Ukraine defend itself against a Russian invasion.
But a growing number of Conservatives feel that Johnson is now a liability who will doom them to defeat at the next election, which must be held by 2024.
"Today's decision is change or lose," said Jeremy Hunt, who ran against Johnson for the Conservative leadership in 2019 but has largely refrained from criticising him since. "I will be voting for change."
Lawmaker Jesse Norman, a longtime Johnson supporter, said the prime minister had "presided over a culture of casual law-breaking" and had left the government "adrift and distracted."
I hope #jeremyhunt and every other filthy backstabber lose their seats at the next election!! They are treacherous attention seeking remoaners that only have their own interest at heart. #BorisJohnson has led the country remarkably over the last few years!!! #BackBorisJohnson— Pilky (@Pilky999) June 6, 2022
Another Tory legislator, John Penrose, quit Monday as the prime minister's "anti-corruption champion," saying Johnson had breached the government code of conduct with the behavior revealed by partygate.
But senior ministers offered messages of support for Johnson — including some who would be likely to run in the Conservative leadership contest that would be triggered if he is ousted.
"The Prime Minister has my 100 per cent backing in today's vote and I strongly encourage colleagues to support him," Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, one of the favorites to succeed Johnson, wrote in a tweet.
If he wins Monday's vote, Johnson is likely to face more pressure. The war in Ukraine, a simmering post-Brexit feud with the EU and soaring inflation are all weighing on the government, and the Conservatives could lose special elections later this month for two parliamentary districts, called when incumbent Tory lawmakers were forced out by sex scandals.
The mood in the Tory party since 2016.#BorisJohnson #voteofconfidence pic.twitter.com/f4eFrlvJRb— Harry De Paepe (@harry_depaepe) June 6, 2022
Johnson tried to focus on those broader issues, noting that he spoke Monday to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine's cause, a stance shared by his possible successors.
Cabinet minister Steve Barclay, a Johnson ally, said toppling the leader now would be "indefensible".
"The problems we face aren't easy to solve" but Conservatives have the right plan to tackle them, he wrote on the Conservative Home website.
"To disrupt that progress now would be inexcusable to many who lent their vote to us for the first time at the last general election, and who want to see our prime minister deliver the changes promised for their communities." - AP