A no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson is inching slowly closer after a string of high-profile Tories called on the Prime Minister to quit over Partygate.
By tonight 29 MPs had publicly called for the PM to go in a drip-drip of letters to the backbenchers’ 1922 Committee since the Sue Gray report.
It follows months of mostly empty speculation about the PM facing a leadership challenge, and most believe he would survive a vote.
But for the first time, the number of MPs publicly demanding he quit has passed the 27 MPs who’d moved against Theresa May in public before she faced a no confidence vote in 2018.
Mrs May needed 48 secret letters from Tory MPs to trigger a no-confidence vote, while Boris Johnson needs a slightly higher 54 (15% of the Parliamentary party).
She went on to win her vote comfortably when more than half of Conservative MPs backed her. Boris Johnson is expected to do this too – 180 MPs would need to vote to topple him before a full leadership contest.
But it dealt Mrs May’s premiership a blow and political pressure forced her out months later.
Speculation was rife today among Tory MPs – who have left Westminster for a week’s recess – about how close Boris Johnson was to the threshold of 54 no-confidence letters.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen put his no-confidence letter back in after demanding Boris Johnson quit then U-turning when the Ukraine war broke out.
He claimed: “It may well be the numbers are close to triggering a vote of no confidence.”
Former attorney general Jeremy Wright said today “with regret” that Mr Johnson should go over the “corrosive” scandal and he was not sure whether or not the PM lied to Parliament.
Elliot Colburn, who was elected in 2019, confirmed he had submitted a letter calling for a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
And a fourth Tory MP, Nickie Aiken, suggested the PM should submit himself to a confidence vote to end the “speculation” over his future.
Only 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady knows how many letters have “gone in” and they can also be withdrawn by MPs at any time.
When he last announced a no confidence vote in 2018, it was sudden and the vote was held on the same day as the announcement.
One Tory MP dampened speculation that the 54-letter threshold had been hit but Sir Graham could be waiting until Parliament returns on Monday.
“He would generally announce straight away, so I doubt it,” the MP said.
“It is recess so maybe it could be delayed until next week. But he generally tells No10 first, and no doubt they’d leak it or start campaigning.”
Another Tory told the FT “I’d be shocked if there isn’t a vote” but suggested it may take until the end of June, after two crucial by-elections on June 23.
“It’s terminal when your colleagues are convinced you can’t a majority at the next election”, that Tory said.
A minister told the FT: “There will be another round [of no-confidence letters] post the by-elections.”
It comes after No 10 failed to deny a report that Carrie Johnson hosted a second party in the Downing Street flat, where she and her husband live, on the day of the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday.
In the day in question, June 19 2020, Mr Johnson was also present at an impromptu gathering in the Cabinet Room, which led to him being fined by the Metropolitan Police along with his wife and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that an unnamed aide claimed to have told Ms Gray’s investigation that they had messages showing Mrs Johnson met “several” male friends that evening, with the Prime Minister later heading up to the flat where they were gathered.
Asked about the report, a No 10 spokesman said senior civil servant Ms Gray had made clear in her terms of reference that she would look at other allegations where there were “credible” claims that rules had been breached.
The Sunday Times said the aide, who has since reportedly written to the Cabinet Secretary about the messages, told Ms Gray’s team they did not want to forward the messages to them but were prepared to show investigators in person.
But the Cabinet Office said the informant had not been willing to provide the messages or to meet in person, so their email exchange was forwarded to the police once the Operation Hillman inquiry started.
The police did not investigate the alleged evening gathering in the flat and, by the time the aide offered to share the messages with Ms Gray, the Cabinet Office said the probe had been wrapped up.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Less than a week after the release of the Gray report, this raises serious questions about whether Downing Street has been caught lying yet again and why the event has not been investigated.
“The Prime Minister must come clean with the British people.”