Boris Johnson’s political future hangs in the balance as he awaits the outcome of the confidence vote on his leadership.
The Prime Minister issued a belated appeal to Tory MPs to back him, warning that an ‘unnecessary’ internal war could see them forced out of office.
The votes are counted after the secret ballot of the 359 Tory MPs, with the result expected at 9 p.m.
It would be a major shock if Tory critics managed to secure the 180 votes needed to oust the party leader, but his authority would be badly damaged if a significant number of his own MPs lost faith in him.
The Prime Minister promised future tax cuts and pointed to his own record of electoral success as he sought to win over wavering MPs.
But preoccupied with the partygate scandal, economic policy, drifting opinion polls and Mr Johnson’s leadership style, the Prime Minister faced a difficult task to win over his doubters.
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The poll was called after at least 54 MPs – 15% of the party’s Commons representatives – said they had no confidence in the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson wrote to Tory MPs and addressed them at a private meeting in Westminster in the hours before voting began.
He told the meeting that “under my leadership” the party had won its biggest election victory in 40 years and promised future tax cuts, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak expected to say more in the coming weeks.
He warned them that Tory splits risked ‘utter disaster’ if Sir Keir Starmer’s Labor entered Downing Street, backed by the SNP.
“The only way to let that happen is if we were stupid enough to get into a pointless, fratricidal debate about the future of our party,” he said.
He told Tory MPs ‘I understand the anxieties of the people who triggered this vote’ but ‘I humbly submit to you that now is not the time for quiet and entirely unforced domestic political drama and months and months of ‘UK reluctance’.
In a bid to win over low-tax Tories, Mr Johnson said: ‘The solution now is to deliver supply-side reform on Conservative principles and cut taxes.’
The prime minister answered five questions during the meeting, two of which were “hostile”, a party source said.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper has said that if the Prime Minister remains in office he will ask MPs to ‘defend the indefensible’.
Coming out of the meeting, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Mr Johnson’s speech had been ‘light on the jokes’ with the Prime Minister in ‘serious mode’.
He said he expected the Prime Minister to win, as the alternative was a “prolonged period of introspection”.
The prime minister was told on Sunday that he would face the vote.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, confirmed he had received the letters from Tory MPs needed to call the ballot on Sunday, with a ‘clear indication’ that there would be more to come after the conclusion of the platinum jubilee festivities. .
A steady stream of Tory MPs have publicly called on the Prime Minister to stand down following Sue Gray’s report into breaches of Covid regulations in No 10 and Whitehall.
But Tory concerns go much further, covering the policies of the Prime Minister, which has seen the tax burden rise to the highest in 70 years, and worries about his style of politics.
Mr Johnson has already received the resignation of his anti-corruption czar, John Penrose, who said the Prime Minister broke cabinet code over the partygate scandal and should step down.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he would vote against Mr Johnson, after hearing ‘anger loud and clear at the breach of Covid rules’ and ‘even more so at the Prime Minister’s statements in Parliament on this subject “.
Further signs of Scottish discontent came with the resignation of John Lamont as ministerial aide and former Scottish secretary David Mundell saying it was time for a ‘fresh start’.
Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who stood against Mr Johnson for the leadership in 2019, has warned the Tories will lose the next general election if the Prime Minister is allowed to remain in office.
“Having been given the confidence of power, Tory MPs know in our hearts that we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve,” he said.
Former minister Jesse Norman, who was a longtime supporter of Mr Johnson, issued a scathing letter to the Prime Minister, saying the Gray report showed Mr Johnson ‘presiding over a culture of occasional law breaking in the 10 Downing Street”.
But his criticism of Mr Johnson was much wider, including the ‘ugly’ policy of sending migrants one-way to Rwanda, the ‘unnecessary and provocative’ privatization of Channel 4, the banning of loud protests that “no truly conservative government” should have introduced, and the lack of “sense of mission” in his administration.
Mr Johnson’s supporters have made determined efforts to bolster his position, with a string of ministers appearing on the airwaves and social media posts from loyal MPs.
Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said a one-vote win would secure Mr Johnson’s job.
“One is enough, there is no point in saying that the party rules say something and then behind it unofficially there is another rule that no one knows about and which was invented for this purpose,” he said. at Sky News.
“Obviously I want the Prime Minister to get the biggest possible majority, I think that would be helpful and that would close this deal by the next general election, which would be good for the country, good for the Conservative Party. , but one is enough.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said a single-vote win “is a win”.
“We live in a democracy and it is absolutely right that a democratic decision is what we respect,” he said.
Attorney General Suella Braverman said ‘technically, yes’, a single vote win would be enough for Mr Johnson to continue, but ‘I’m sure he will win by a bigger margin than that’.
But in reality a major revolt would leave him injured, perhaps fatally, especially with two by-elections on June 23 that could see further blows to his leadership.
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