Here we are again. Boris Johnson has been found to have broken the law (and lied about it). Conservative MPs are starting to form ranks again and Johnson’s frustration is starting to show. His contrite, empty apologies from yesterday were replaced today with contempt and stupid jokes. He remains as evasive as ever, and his supporters are quick to state that people are fed up with this topic. Evidently that is not the case.
But as the Met investigation winds down, it seems that Johnson and his gang have gone back to the old line. “Let’s wait for the Sue Gray report“. Well, they always were partial to a bit of nostalgia! Sadly, the report still seems to be some way away. Despite this, a vote has now been set for tomorrow on whether Johnson should be investigated by the privileges committee.
This leaves us in the bizarre position of a vote taking place before the much vaunted report has been released. In reality, it’s a moot point. With an 80 seat majority, Johnson will not lose. Losing this vote would, essentially, amount to a no confidence vote in the government. That being said, the vote has been phrased in such a way as to force Conservatives to nail their colours to the mast. MPs will have to vote for or against whether Johnson should be investigated.
Voting against is tacit support for the idea that the rules do not apply. It seems that there are at least 14 Conservatives who are unwilling to do so.
Who was already calling for Johnson to go?
Prior to the war in Ukraine a lot of Conservative MPs were clamouring to get rid of Boris Johnson. A fair number have since reaffirmed their support for the Prime Minister. But at least 10 have not!
1. David Davis was one of the earliest to call for Johnson to go following the initial Partygate rumours. His intervention made headlines with his blunt statement – “in the name of god, go”. This from the former Brexit secretary was a huge blow as it completely undermines the argument that this is an “anti-Brexit” move.
2. Aaron Bell submitted a letter to the 1922 committee in February this year. His intervention was particularly poignant as he had personally suffered a bereavement during lockdown. He (unlike the Prime Minister) observed the rules, completing a 6 hour round trip to attend a funeral.
3. Caroline Nokes came out a few days ago to reiterate that she stands by her letter of no confidence. Ms Nokes also put paid to the idea that it’s only activists who care about this, a line that the usual cheerleaders have been pushing.
4. William Wragg‘s intervention came in January coupled with the explosive allegation that accused the government of blackmailing MPs. This seems to have gone quiet, but it did spark at least an initial police investigation.
5. Anthony Mangnall was one of the first Conservatives to outright accuse Johnson of lying. Again, Mangnall is a natural ally of Johnson, but evidently he is not willing to sacrifice his integrity for his career.
6. Tim Loughton also took exception to the evasive attitude that Boris Johnson displayed in the early days of the scandal. Johnson’s failure to take it seriously seems to have particularly rankled with Mr Loughton.
7. Peter Aldous outright stated that he is putting country before party. It seems that the constituent emails he received, particularly the stories of personal loss, made a difference.
8. Tobias Ellwood is another former cabinet Minister who has called for Johnson to go. He has also come out today to reaffirm his position. Namely that this is not the same as a speeding ticket and the Prime Minister needs to take accountability.
9. Gary Streeter called for Johnson to go after the redacted Sue Gray report, outlining the irreconcilable position of a Prime Minister who ripped up his own lockdown laws.
10. Nick Gibb came out after receiving furious emails from constituents, stating the Prime Minister needs to go.
Which Conservatives have spoken out since Johnson’s fines?
11. Nigel Mills was one of the first to act after news that Johnson was fined. His intervention came around about the same time that Cabinet Ministers were spamming copy / paste messages of support. Mr .Mills evidently did not believe that a war in Ukraine was sufficient reason to save Johnson’s bacon. He stated that “laws are laws and if you break them there has to be a consequence”. Evidently, he does not think the Prime Minister should be held to a lower standard than the rest of the country.
12. Craig Whittaker was another to call for Johnson to go pretty much as soon as the fines hit.
13. Karen Bradley has also called for Boris Johnson to go, following a statement earlier in the week that she would personally resign if she had been caught out in Partygate. She has also stated that it Johnson’s position is untenable and that those who make the rules cannot break the rules.
14. Mark Harper is the final entrant, and another former Minister, who has called for Johnson to go, stating that he is “no longer worthy” of being Prime Minister. I’d question when he ever was!
Dr Neil Hudson has issued a strongly worded message expressing his anger. He has also called for an orderly timetable from the Prime Minister for a leadership election. But he stopped short of calling for his resignation, citing the current international crisis. How he will vote on Thursday is therefore not clear.
Lord Wolfson is not an MP, but he has resigned as a result of the law breaking. As the only cabinet Minister who has done the honourable thing he is worthy of a shout out. It’s said that yet another person has had to lose their job so that Johnson can keep his.
Christian Wakeford is the final mention. He went a step further a crossed the floor. Again, as a leave voting, Brexit backing MP this is a massive step and kills any suggestion that the critique of Johnson is about Brexit.
A number of other MPs have indicated that they are likely to abstain from voting in tomorrow’s vote. This is likely to mean that the vote is far closer than Johnson would like, but I would be very surprised if it got anywhere close to passing. All the same – this shows that momentum can and is building.