After this month’s failed attempt to impeach Boris Johnson in a no-confidence vote, Tory rebels will hold their fire until his position is ‘unsalvageable’ and they are sure to finish him off, has said a former minister.
The backbencher said The Independent that MPs will act ‘lightning fast’ to oust the Prime Minister when a powerful Commons committee publishes its findings on whether he lied to Parliament about Partygate.
His prediction came as Mr Johnson insisted he would not give up the ‘privilege’ of being Prime Minister – and claimed the poll in which 40% of his MPs voted to impeach him amounted to a “new term” to lead.
But despite the prime minister’s optimism, the ex-minister said he did not believe his fellow MPs would allow Johnson to lead them into the next election, no matter how determined he was to continue.
“How deep in the gutter are we willing to dive? ” He asked. “How ready are we to let the Conservative Party become degraded?
“It’s a rather poor situation, after two elections where half the main opposition candidates didn’t want their leader on their leaflets, if we go into the next election not wanting our leader’s face on ours.”
Double by-election defeats last week at Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton have prompted demands for a second vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership, with some Tory MPs apparently resubmitting letters of no confidence to Chairman Sir Graham Brady of the 1922 backbench committee.
The rebels are pushing for the committee’s rules to be changed to allow for an early re-execution by reducing the 12-month grace period given to Mr Johnson after winning his post by a vote of 211 to 148 on June 6.
But the ex-minister said it was better to finish off Mr Johnson cleanly than risk another ballot which he could again survive.
With only backbench MPs allowed to vote in next month’s 22 executive elections, there is no doubt that the body will soon have a majority of members keen to send the prime minister, a- he declared.
But he warned: “If we did it now, who’s to say we’d even win?
“When it happens, it has to be lightning fast and it has to be at a time when his position is unrecoverable.”
He said the time would likely come with the publication, expected in early autumn, of the report of the Privileges Committee, chaired by veteran Labor MP Harriet Harman.
Despite intense pressure on the majority of Tory MPs on the committee to exonerate the Prime Minister, it was hard to see how their findings could do anything other than confirm that Mr Johnson misled Parliament when he said all the Social distancing rules were being adhered to at No 10, the backbench MP said. .
If the Prime Minister tried to hang on, in defiance of convention that would suggest automatic resignation, “that’s when the ’22 will act, that’s when the rules will be changed and that he will be eliminated”.
The comments came as cabinet ministers faced growing calls to follow Oliver Dowden, who quit his government post and Conservative party chairmanship after devastating by-election defeats.
Senior Tory MP William Wragg, one of Mr Johnson’s leading critics, called on ministers to “show some courage” and take action against the Prime Minister.
There was a ‘palpable’ sense of disappointment on the backbenches at the silence of ministers, said Mr Wragg, who suggested inaction now could hurt their chances in a possible succession battle .
“Any of them with leadership aspirations could consider that and do something about it,” he told BBC Radio 4. Westminster time.
Fellow backbench critic Damian Green said “it’s no secret that many cabinet members are mounting potential leadership campaigns.”
The former Tory minister told Channel 4: “If this long agony…is to be brought to an end…then perhaps someone in cabinet may want to take action.”
The Prime Minister insisted that questions over his leadership had been “settled” by this month’s vote of confidence.
Asked at the G7 summit in Germany if he considered quitting No10, Mr Johnson told the BBC: ‘I am focused on what I am doing as the leader of the country.
“It’s a huge, huge privilege to do, no one gives up a privilege like that.”
Asked if he still had the power to lead, an irate Mr Johnson – who angered critics over the weekend by suggesting he would stay in the 2030s – replied: “Not only I have the power, but I have a new warrant from my party that I am absolutely thrilled with.
Environment Secretary George Eustice insisted the rest of the cabinet continued to support their leader.
“We have the Prime Minister’s backing, the Prime Minister has our backing, we are working together and sticking together in difficult times,” he told Sky News.