Boris Johnson faces further criticism from Tories over his leadership

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson came under renewed criticism from the Tories over his leadership, but he insisted his presence in Downing Street leaving drinks during the Covid restrictions was important to maintaining staff ‘morale’.

Simon Fell, the Tory MP for Barrow, has become the latest Tory to express a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister, saying the findings of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the partygate scandal were “a slap in the face”.

The rebel Tories say Johnson will face a vote of no confidence in his party leadership this month, either when MPs return to Westminster next week or later this month if the Tories lose two key by-elections .

Fell said in a letter to constituents: ‘The culture described in Ms Gray’s report is unforgivable and I certainly will not defend it.’ He added that “a corrosive culture and lack of leadership allowed this to happen, and apologizing after the fact is insufficient.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Dinenage, a former cabinet minister and Tory MP for Gosport, wrote to voters to say that while Johnson had promised to clean up the culture in Downing Street, she was yet to be convinced.

She said “those at the top of any organization must take responsibility for the culture that is allowed to seep in”, adding: “Until I see real evidence of leadership that listens and changes , I’m afraid I’m not ready to defend this.”

About 30 Tory MPs have publicly called on Johnson to resign or face a vote of no confidence.

Tory MPs have returned to their constituencies during the parliamentary recess and are gradually making their feelings for the Prime Minister known to their local constituents.

A number of MPs, including Fell, sharply criticized Johnson but did not say whether they had submitted a letter asking for a vote of no confidence in Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers.

Johnson faced hostile questioning on the parenting website Mumsnet on Wednesday and tried to defend his attendance at drinks parties during Covid restrictions in Downing Street, where he said staff were working “blindly hard”.

Simon Fell, the Tory MP for Barrow, is the latest Tory to express a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister

Asked why it was right for him to go get a drink for a departing staff member when ordinary citizens couldn’t attend a funeral, Johnson said he was just trying to cheer him up .

“What I thought I was doing was just doing what is right for a leader in all circumstances and that is thanking people for their service,” he added.

Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, opened the Q&A session by saying a “typical question” for Johnson was: “Why should we believe anything you say when you’ve been proven to be a habitual liar?

Johnson responded that people are “making all sorts of accusations about all sorts of things” and asked voters to judge him on his record in government.

Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister, insisted that despite growing Tory criticism of Johnson, the party was not about to plunge into a no-confidence vote next week.

“I think the Westminster bubble is stirring up that stuff,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s not serious and meaningful but. . . the prime minister has dealt with all these issues,” he told Sky News.

Nadine Dorries, Culture Secretary and a Johnson loyalist, said there was a campaign by “one or two individuals” who were trying to bring down the Prime Minister.

Some Johnson allies have accused colleagues of former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt of preparing behind the scenes for a possible Tory leadership race.

A friend of Hunt’s said: ‘Number 10 should be wary of that kind of nervous briefing. Despite numerous calls from colleagues, and even the party at large, Jeremy is not committing at this time.

Most Tory MPs say Johnson’s criticism is unorchestrated and reflects widespread concern across the party. Rebel MPs included roughly equal numbers of Remainers and Incumbents, with criticism coming from both the Northern “Red Wall” parliamentary seats and the Southern “Blue Wall” seats.

The fear among rebels is that Johnson will win any votes of no confidence and then limp, with his authority undermined. Some 180 Tory MPs, half of the parliamentary party, are expected to vote against the prime minister to impeach him.

“The worst-case scenario is the letters come in, he wins by 10 votes, then he hobbles over damaged,” said a former minister. “I think he would go on even if he only won by one vote because he’s the most selfish person I’ve ever met.”

Another senior Tory MP said: “He will not quit. I think over 100 people would vote against him, but he would continue.

In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May won a no-confidence vote with the support of 63% of Tory MPs. But she never recovered. She was forced out of office in 2019 and replaced by Johnson.

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Edward L. Robinett