he threat of a second confidence vote on Boris Johnson’s premiership moved a step closer on Wednesday as Conservative rebels warned they could change the party’s rules to oust the embattled Prime Minister.
Senior Tory MPs on the executive of the 1922 backbench committee were meeting today to set out the timetable and process for electing its new executive, with speculation a vote could be held as soon as the middle of next week.
Having narrowly won a confidence vote by 211-148 exactly one month ago, the 1922 Committee’s current rules state that Mr Johnson cannot face another vote for 12 months.
But opponents of the Prime Minister are said to be bidding to win a majority on the new 12-member executive to force through a rule change which would enable them to call a vote on Mr Johnson much sooner.
There were also reports that the 1922 could change the rules on confidence votes immediately without the need for electing a new executive.
Conservative MP Andrew Murrison, who quit his role as a government trade envoy yesterday in protest at Mr Johnson’s leadership, today warned the Prime Minister that if he didn’t quit now then the 1922 Committee would force him to go.
“He needs to depart now with dignity…he has to go now,” Mr Murrison said. “If he doesn’t go now then inevitably he will do.
“This has a sense of inevitability about it. So either by more ministerial resignations… or the 1922 will change the rules and we will be rid of him that way. But one way or another this will be done.”
Although Mr Johnson claimed his victory on June 6 gave him a fresh mandate to lead his party, 41 per cent of Conservative MPs voted against him, leaving his authority severely damaged.
Following yesterday’s wave of government resignations — which continued early this morning with three more, as Will Quince, Robin Walker and Laura Trott announced their departures, it is likely that Mr Johnson’s support in the party has shrunk by at least 13 since that confidence vote.
That means if a fresh vote were called now, Mr Johnson’s margin of victory would probably be reduced from 63 to less than 40.
And for the rebels to win a second confidence vote they would probably only require another 20 Tory MPs who previously backed Mr Johnson to switch sides to unseat him.
Were he to lose any eventual confidence vote then Mr Johnson would not be able to stand in a subsequent leadership election, which could feature former chancellor Rishi Sunak and ex-health secretary Sajid Javid — who both quit dramatically last night — the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and the current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, said there “must simply be a risk that half the party now think the Prime Minister should go”.
He said that based on current public declarations, at least 45 per cent of the party were now opposed to Mr Johnson.
He added: “How many will Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid bring with them? Is Sunak actively encouraging people to say let’s get rid of this guy.” In a bid to keep potential rebels onside, there have been reports that Mr Johnson could be preparing to call a snap general election.
But Sir John told LBC: “Well, certainly, I think at the moment one has to say that if the Conservatives were to precipitate a general election, then probably it would be I kamikaze mission.”
With Mr Johnson battling to stay in office, sources said it is likely a vote on the make up of the new 1922 executive Committee, chaired by Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady, would be set to take place before Parliament’s summer break on July 21.
Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who chairs the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, tweeted: “This will come as no surprise to those who know me but I have written to Graham Brady asking for a rule change governing the holding of confidence votes & a further confidence vote to be held. Change is needed and needed now.”
But Bob Blackman, the joint-executive secretary of the 1922 Committee, said there would need to be a “very high threshold” in place to warrant a confidence vote in a Prime Minister “very soon” after a previous ballot.
He told Talk TV: “What we have to do is certainly have calm heads here, because one of the other suggestions being made… is that you’d reduce the time-frame to six months. Six months takes you to the beginning of December.
“In my view, you’d have to have a very high threshold indeed to warrant confidence votes very soon after a previous confidence vote.”