The Partygate drama is temporarily paused as Tory MPs wait for Sue Gray to deliver her report. But even once it is out, what happens to Boris Johnson and the Conservative party is far from clear. One Tory MP with a foot in both the rebel and loyalist camps predicts ‘trench warfare for several weeks’ as the plotters try to get the 54 letters they need for a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister.
Not all Tory MPs are convinced that submitting a letter is the right approach though. As I say in the Times today, one of the arguments being made against calling for the PM to go is that it might lead to the worst possible outcome for the party. Boris Johnson is determined to fight a no confidence vote, and his parliamentary supporters are already making preparations for it. If he wins only narrowly, he would be safe for twelve months, wounded but not dead.
At a meeting of the 1922 Committee executive this week it was suggested a rule change designed to deal with this problem should be discussed. A threshold of 25 per cent would be set for a second ballot within a year. This would mean that a ballot could be held in the weeks after Johnson survived a first vote, allowing one to be held after, say, the local elections, assuming 90 Tory MPs wanted it. Those who are sympathetic to this change think that it should be done quickly, on the grounds that it is simpler and cleaner to amend the rules when there is not actually a vote on.
As the rules currently stand, if Boris Johnson wins a no confidence vote, he is safe for 12 months. Tory MPs who aren’t sure what to do are pointing to this scenario to argue that they would be better off waiting until after the local elections in May before making their minds up about Boris Johnson’s future. Yet this position is unpopular with those who have councillors up for elections in May, given the risk of an electoral wipeout. Whatever Sue Gray’s report says, it seems likely the Tory civil war could drag on for some months.
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