Angry British lawmakers launch vote of confidence in Boris Johnson

  • Voting will take place later on Monday
  • Partigate temperament in the Conservative Party
  • Support campaign coordinated by the Johnson government

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a confidence vote on Monday after a growing number of lawmakers in his Conservative Party questioned the British leader’s authority in what he dubbed the “Party Gateway” scandal.

Johnson, who won a landslide election victory in 2019, is under mounting pressure after he and his staff held alcohol-fuelled parties at the heart of power when Britain was under a strict lockdown to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

To underscore the depth of the anger, he was met with a chorus of boos and boos – and some muted cheers – at events celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee in recent days.

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On Monday, a seemingly impregnable Johnson was criticized by ally Jesse Norman, a former secretary of state who said the 57-year-old prime minister who remained in power had insulted both voters and the party. Read more

“I’ve presided over a culture of casual law-breaking in 10 Downing Street regarding COVID,” he said, adding that the government had “a large majority, but no long-term plan”.

Norman is one of a growing number of Conservative lawmakers who have declared Johnson has lost his power to govern Britain, which faces rising prices, the threat of recession and travel chaos caused by strikes in the capital.

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who ran against Johnson for leadership in 2019, said the party knew it was failing in the country. “Today’s decision changes or loses,” he said. “I will vote for change.” Read more

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Johnson’s anti-corruption chief, John Penrose, has resigned. “I think it’s over,” he told Sky News. “Now it seems like a question of when not if.”

The majority of the 359 Conservative lawmakers – at least 180 – will have to vote against Johnson to remove him – a level that some Conservatives say may be difficult to reach, given the lack of a clear successor.

If he is passed, there will be a leadership contest to determine his replacement, which could take several weeks.

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Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee representing Ordinary Conservative MPs, said the vote would take place between 6pm and 8pm (1700-1900 GMT) and the result would be announced later on Monday. Read more

A spokesman for Johnson’s Downing Street office said the vote would allow the government to put an end to and move forward.

“The Prime Minister welcomes the opportunity to present his case to the MPs (Members of Parliament) and will remind them that when they unite and focus on issues of concern to the electorate, there will be no tremendous political power.”

Johnson, the former mayor of London, rose to power in Westminster as the face of the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, and took a hard line once in power.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities, told Sky News that completing Brexit would be “at great risk without his motivation and energy”.

Johnson got into an argument with Brussels over Northern Ireland, raising the prospect of further barriers to British trade and alarming leaders in Ireland, Europe and the United States about the risks to the 1998 peace deal in the territory.

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The result is uncertain

Ministers also made an effort to point to what they described as the high points of the Johnson administration – saying Britain’s rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrated the prime minister can make the “big decisions”.

“I support him today and will continue to support him as we focus on growing the economy, addressing the cost of living and liquidating the COVID backlog,” Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter in a determined expression of support.

In letters to Tory MPs, Johnson also made the same point, urging them to support him.

Johnson, or his potential successor, faces a host of problems. British families face the biggest cost-of-living pressure since records began in the 1950s, with food and fuel prices rising as wages lag.

For some Conservatives, Johnson is guilty of squandering a large majority, and unable or unwilling to set the agenda after being hampered by scandals.

But others expect him to survive the vote and, despite his injury, can reset his administration and focus on what one party veteran described as “looking and acting like a Conservative”.

For those hoping to replace him, Ladbrokes bookmaker has positioned Hunt, the former health and foreign secretary, as his favourite, followed by Secretary of State Liz Truss. Read more

For many in Britain, revelations about what happened in Downing Street, including fights and alcohol-induced vomiting, were hard to bear, when so many people were prevented from saying goodbye to loved ones at funerals.

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Mel Chitwood, a 61-year-old archivist, said the sight of Johnson being booed by a pro-royal audience was key.

“I thought that was very expressive,” Chitwood said. “It felt like a turning point for me.”

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(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper) Additional reporting by William James, Alistair Smoot, William Schomberg and Farouk Suleiman. Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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