PM faces new calls to resign as Tory MPs say his party explanations not credible

Justice Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill confirmed he had submitted a no confidence letter in Boris Johnson’s leadership.

27 May 2022

The drip-feed of no confidence letters being submitted over the Prime Minister’s leadership has continued as pressure grows on Boris Johnson following publication of the No 10 parties report.

Since senior civil servant Sue Gray published her investigation into coronavirus lockdown-busting gatherings in Downing Street on Wednesday, there has been a steady trickle of Conservative MPs announcing they want a vote on Mr Johnson’s future as UK leader.

Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, added his name to that list on Friday, declaring that he did not think the Prime Minister’s explanations were “credible” for why he attended events in No 10 while the rest of the country was subject to rules that “caused real pain”.

Separately, Alicia Kearns, a Tory MP elected during Mr Johnson’s landslide election win in 2019, said she had concluded, in the aftermath of Ms Gray’s report, that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament when he said Covid rules had been upheld in Downing Street.

Sir Bob, in a statement on his website, said: “I have listened carefully to the explanations the Prime Minister has given, in Parliament and elsewhere, and, regrettably, do not find his assertions to be credible.

“That is why, with a heavy heart, I submitted a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday afternoon.”

The former minister and MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said that a “change in leadership is required” if trust in the office of Prime Minister and the political process was to be restored following the so-called partygate saga.

Ms Kearns, in a Facebook post, said she continued not to hold confidence in the Prime Minister, a position first asserted in January.

The Rutland and Melton MP said: “It is wrong that families were banned from saying goodbye to their dying loved ones, whilst the Prime Minister was complicit in the holding of many goodbye parties for his staff, which we now know displayed a complete disregard for restrictions and were complete with vomiting, fighting and bullying.

“I can only conclude that the Prime Minister’s account of events to Parliament was misleading.”

Ms Kearns did not say whether her lack of confidence in Mr Johnson had led to her submitting a letter of no confidence.

A vote on the Prime Minister’s future will be held if 54 of his MPs write to Sir Graham, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, demanding a confidence vote in their leader.

At least 20 Tories have publicly called for his resignation so far, with many critics holding back due to the war in Ukraine.

Conservative MP and Justice Committee chairman Bob Neill
Conservative MP and Justice Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill (PA)

Others may have called for a no confidence vote in private, however, as Sir Graham does not publicly reveal how many letters he has received.

Sir Bob’s intervention, making him the fifth Tory MP to call for Mr Johnson to go since the full Gray report was released, comes on the same day as the Home Secretary’s assistant resigned over the “toxic culture” uncovered in No 10 by the Cabinet Office official’s inquiry.

Tory MP Paul Holmes quit as Priti Patel’s parliamentary private secretary, saying he was “shocked and angered” by the revelations.

Mr Holmes did not, however, state whether he had submitted a letter of no confidence, instead noting that reforms to the Downing Street set-up had been introduced in the wake of the party revelations.

Along with Sir Bob, MPs Stephen Hammond, David Simmonds, John Baron and Julian Sturdy have broken ranks to call for Mr Johnson’s resignation since Wednesday.

Tory MP Alicia Kearns said she thought the PM had misled Parliament when he said Covid rules were upheld in No 10
Tory MP Alicia Kearns said she thought the PM had misled Parliament when he said Covid rules were upheld in No 10 (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

The Prime Minister on Friday said it would be up to the public to make up their mind on his behaviour as detailed in Ms Gray’s 37-page written document.

During a visit to the North East, he looked to bat away questions about the affair, telling broadcasters he had already offered “vintage and exhaustive answers”.

Ms Gray found that Mr Johnson attended a number of leaving dos in No 10 during the lockdown months in England, often giving speeches about departing officials, but he insisted these were work events – a conclusion he said was backed up by the Metropolitan Police opting not to fine him for being present at such gatherings.

Mr Johnson, who did receive a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for attending his own surprise birthday bash in June 2020, has argued it was after he left some of the leaving dos that they became raucous.

Ms Gray’s report depicts a culture in No 10 that saw staff drink so much that they were sick, became involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff.

Despite facing criticism over his partygate explanations, the Prime Minister chose to announce changes to the ministerial code on Friday in a move his rivals said watered down the rules over those on the Government’s front bench.

An update said ministers will not automatically lose their jobs if they breach the standards code, with a Government policy statement saying it was “disproportionate” to expect ministers to resign or face the sack for “minor” violations of the code’s provisions.

Boris Johnson visit to Darlington
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to CityFibre Training Academy in Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington (Owen Humphreys/PA)

It had previously been expected that ministers should go if they were found to have breached the code.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both criticised the “downgrading” of public standards with the move.

Sir Bob, in an interview with BBC News about his decision to submit a no confidence letter, said the revisions were unlikely to “help restore trust” in Britain’s leadership.

“I don’t really think that is a wise move, and certainly not a good time to be doing this,” he said.

“That isn’t, to my mind, likely to help restore trust either, so that’s certainly not made the situation any better as far as I’m concerned.”

Following the publication of Ms Gray’s report and the conclusion of Scotland Yard’s Operation Hillman investigation, which saw 126 fines dished out for rule breaches in Government, Mr Johnson now faces a Commons inquiry.

The Privileges Committee will rule on whether he lied to Parliament with his repeated denials there was no rule-breaking in Downing Street.

Deliberately misleading the House is considered a resigning matter.

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