Michael Gove has been sacked from the cabinet, as Boris Johnson attempts to reassert control after today’s 41 ministerial resignations. The Levelling-Up secretary had urged the Prime Minister to quit, a message later reinforced by a delegation of cabinet ministers who gathered in Downing Street earlier this evening. Nadhim Zahawi, the newly-appointed Chancellor, Michelle Donelan, the newly-appointed Education Secretary, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, who has since resigned, are among those who told the PM to go. But Johnson has refused to do so and is now willing to risk a confidence vote which may come on Tuesday. Here’s the latest:
11.30 p.m – Suella Braverman announces Tory leadership bid
Katy Balls writes… Boris Johnson has so far had four cabinet ministers resign and sacked one – in the form of Michael Gove. Now, another minister has come out publicly to say they will run to be a successor should there be a leadership contest. Step forward Suella Braverman.
11.00 p.m. – Hart’s resignation leaves Boris with another dilemma
Katy Balls writes… After a day dominated by junior ministerial resignations, Boris Johnson has suffered one more cabinet resignation. This evening Simon Hart tendered his resignation. The Welsh Secretary had been one of the ministers who formed the Downing Street delegation calling on Johnson to resign or see his ministers go. Johnson refused to play ball. I understand Hart – a one-time Johnson loyalist – had considered resigning earlier but had been talked down by the Chief Whip who suggested he talked to the Prime Minister first. Hart’s departure leaves yet another vacancy for Johnson to fill. The question: is there a Welsh MP to replace him with? Two Welsh MPs – in the form of Faye Jones and Craig Williams – both quit as PPSs today.
10.30 p.m. – Simon Hart resigns
Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, has resigned from the government. Hart wrote in his letter to Boris Johnson that ‘there seems no other option left’ but to step down. “There was never a dull moment as a minister in your government,” he said. Quite.
9.30 p.m. – Gove fired by Boris
Fraser Nelson writes… This morning, Michael Gove advised Boris Johnson to resign on his own terms rather than be forced out: a difficult, but civil conversation. Then this evening, out of the blue, Johnson called Gove and fired him. It’s a mad end to a mad day. It’s easy to see why Gove didn’t join the exodus today: after having famously stuck the knife into Johnson in the 2016 Tory leadership race, Gove perhaps thought could not very well do so again. But his dismay with the direction of the Johnson project had become well-known. In yesterday’s Cabinet, Gove was the main voice of dissent – saying that it was time to be honest about the economic pain that lies ahead. Two of Gove’s Levelling-Up ministers, Neil O’Brien and Kemi Badenoch, resigned earlier today. A No10 source has been quoted saying of Gove “you can’t have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully tells the press the leader has to go.” But if Johnson intends to fire all those who think. that he has to go, that will be quite a lot of jobs to fill on top of the 39 ministers who have already resigned.
8.50 p.m. – Javid warns of Tory ‘1997-style wipeout’
Steerpike writes… After a long day of plots, gossip and rumour, where else to head but a think tank summer party? Thirsty Westminster watchers piled into the Centre for Policy Studies’ shindig tonight to variously drown their sorrows or toast the collapse of Boris Johnson’s government. But the main attraction was Sajid Javid, the former Health Secretary who resigned over the Pincher affair, as opposed to the attendant Matt Hancock, another former Health Secretary who, er, resigned over his own affair.
Welcoming Javid to the stage was Robert Colvile, the CPS director and Sunday Times columnist who joked that: ‘On an extraordinary day in British politics, it’s great to be here with the man who started it all off.’ Remarking drily on the current direction of the government, Colvile remarked that when his think tank was launched in the 1970s ‘it was a time of high inflation and high taxes…it’s so good that things have changed.’ But then it was time for Javid to deliver his speech, watched on by an army of CCHQ’s finest. The onetime Chancellor remarked that he had received a range of messages since his resignation speech earlier today.
Some, he said, had been comparing his speech to that of Geoffrey Howe, whose address in 1990 is credited with triggering the fall of Margaret Thatcher. Javid joked that he didn’t welcome the comparison as on the day that Thatcher resigned, he and a group of friends at Exeter University – former MP David Burrowes, conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie and current MP Robert Halfon – all clubbed together to raise £20 to send the Iron Lady a bouquet of flowers. Another message was from his family group chat about sushi in the house: a reminder, perhaps, of the role family plays in grounding politicians.
But then Javid struck a serious note, demanding a return to ‘real Conservative values.’ He told the crowd: ‘There’s only one solution: we have to go for growth and unfortunately we haven’t been doing enough of that.’ Javid concluded by saying: ‘Unless we do change and we become Conservative again, the genuine risk that we now face is that we could now be facing a 1997-style general election catastrophe, unless we change. We’ve got the opportunity to change now, we’ve got a couple of years before the next election. We can do it and we have to.’
And which leader might be able to sponsor that change, eh Saj?
8.45 p.m. – Why Grant Shapps isn’t quitting…yet
Isabel Hardman writes… Grant Shapps isn’t resigning as Transport Secretary at the moment. I understand he told the Prime Minister that he stood little chance of commanding a majority of the parliamentary party in a second confidence vote. He advised the Prime Minister that a more dignified exit would be for him to set his own timetable for an early but orderly departure. Shapps saying this is significant, given Johnson has long trusted him as the man with the spreadsheet who understands what the party is up to.
The reason he isn’t resigning yet is that he is still waiting to find out how Johnson reacts to his advice.
8.30 p.m. – why some Tories are nervous about ousting Boris
There were a number of groups within the ‘delegations’ of ministers who descended on Downing Street tonight. One was the stay camp, which was quite small. But within the resign group there were two sub-sections: those who are ready to quit, and those who won’t because they want to keep the government running, stay in their offices, and so on until an orderly transition takes place (and some hope they’ll stay beyond that too).
The second group were asking Johnson to quit so they didn’t have to. His argument in response – and the one he plans to deploy in the vote of confidence that he wants to push this to – is that he was given a huge mandate by the British people in 2019, that the Tories will lose the next election without him and that this will usher in a Labour/SNP pact. To that end, he wants to start filling government positions to show that he does still have the ‘energy’ he was telling the Liaison Committee about earlier. The chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris has been warning that it isn’t going to be possible to fill 38 ministerial positions (and that’s before the ones who are expected to quit this evening, which includes Cabinet ministers) and that the government isn’t going to be able to run.
Earlier this week I was speaking to a Boris ally who had concluded that the game was up and it was time for him to go. This MP nonetheless warned that his colleagues needed to be careful about the long-term impact of removing a Prime Minister, pointing out that many Tories still get very emotional when talking about how Thatcher left No. 10. There has never been the same relationship between this Prime Minister and the Conservative party, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a long and difficult toxic legacy from Johnson’s swansong.
8.00 p.m. – It’s more likely Boris survives the night
Isabel Hardman writes… Nadine Dorries, the Prime Minister’s most ardent supporter, has just left No. 10, telling journalists that she still wants him to stay on, and saying ‘oh yes’ when asked whether others hold that view too. She entered as part of a ‘delegation’ of support which consisted largely of her and Jacob Rees-Mogg. They were there to counter the arguments being pushed by other cabinet ministers that Johnson should quit tonight.
Johnson’s allies have said that he plans to ‘fight on’ and is ‘absolutely defiant’. This means that the Plan B option being discussed by MPs is more likely: a confidence vote against him on Tuesday. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister wants to go in this way: but those who understand him say it is about going down fighting rather than appearing meek like other former Prime Ministers who quit earlier.
What this means is that the section of the ‘resign’ delegation who had threatened to quit tonight if the PM did not take their advice – which includes Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart – will likely be announcing their resignations shortly. It will be interesting to see who else joins them, and who decides to keep the lights on in government for a few more days.
7.15 p.m. – Nadhim Zahawi’s star has fallen
Katy Balls writes… Who are the winners and losers from today’s Cabinet intervention? Of course, the person who suffers the most from it is Boris Johnson. But there’s also a sense among MPs that Nadhim Zahawi’s star has fallen as a result of the past 24 hours. As I write in this week’s politics column, there were nerves last night that Zahawi could join Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid in resigning. Instead he was promoted to Chancellor. In Downing Street, Johnson asked Zahawi: ‘Do you actually want the job?’ Zahawi replied that it was the most challenging, rewarding and exciting position there was and suggested that he would bring to the Treasury the efficiency and clarity he showed over the vaccine rollout.
No. 10 aides pointed to the appointment as evidence Johnson had support. So why has Zahawi changed his mind less than 24 hours later? He is believed to be in the delegation of ministers telling Johnson to go. The apparent turnaround has led some in the party to question his judgment.
7.10 p.m. – Might Boris manage to cling on?
James Forsyth writes… The role of the chief whip in tonight’s meeting in Downing Street is intriguing. Ministers who want Boris Johnson to go think that Chris Heaton-Harris agrees with them that the Prime Minister’s position is unsustainable. Now, when the chief whip thinks your position is unsustainable then it really is. But one Cabinet minister who knows the PM well thinks that Johnson’s inclination will be to go all the way to a confidence ballot, which will likely take place on Tuesday after the new executive of the 1922 Committee meets on Monday. Why? Because he thinks that if he holds on until then there is a chance that something might turn up.
7.00 p.m. – What’s happening inside No. 10
Katy Balls writes… I’ve just been outside 10 Downing Street where ministers have slowly been entering over the past two hours. We know that there is a delegation in there – including figures such as Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi – who are believed to be issuing an ultimatum to the PM: either Johnson goes, or they go. There are members in this group who considered resigning but were talked down by the Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris who suggested the best way forward was to speak to Johnson. But there are also Johnson loyalists in No. 10, such as Nadine Dorries, who remain dedicated to the Prime Minister.
6.40 p.m. – Why some Tory MPs want Boris gone, but not yet
James Forsyth writes… Will Boris Johnson resign? Interestingly, there are some who want him gone who are hoping he doesn’t. The logic of these grandees is that it would actually be cathartic for the party to remove Johnson in a confidence ballot rather than have him resign. They think that the margin of defeat would be so substantial that it would reduce the amount of poison that this would inject into the party and make it easier for a new leader to bring it back together.
6.35 p.m. – Thatcher’s downfall has a lesson for Boris’s enemies
Charles Moore writes… Few leaders could be as different in character as Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson, but one can compare their predicaments when colleagues turned on them.
Both had large parliamentary majorities and were never defeated in any election they led, yet both faced internal coups. In both cases, there were/ are good reasons why colleagues were fed up with their leaders. What was true in Mrs Thatcher’s case, however, and may well apply in Boris’s if he does go, is that her political assassination caused remorse, and immense, lasting division. As John Major understood and Michael Heseltine did not foresee, remorseful MPs tend to turn on the chief assassin and favour, almost paradoxically, the successor candidate who seems loyal to the ousted leader. If that logic works this time, Rishi Sunak (and the less likely Sajid Javid) will find it hard to win.
6.05 p.m. – Why a snap election is unlikely
James Forsyth writes… There is lots of continuing speculation about the prospect that Boris Johnson might call a general election, fuelled by the PM’s comments at the Liaison Committee. I really don’t think this is going to happen. Lots of parts of the British state don’t work, but the part that protects the Queen from political embarrassment is still pretty effective and if Johnson tried to seek a dissolution, he would – I suspect – find that the Queen was unavailable and Tory MPs would then do the necessary.
5.45 p.m. – Ministers expect Boris to walk tonight
Katy Balls writes… Boris Johnson is facing an ultimatum from members of his Cabinet to go, but technically he has a few days before MPs can force him out. The 1922 committee met today and decided not to change the rules now; instead elections for a new executive will take place next week. It’s only then that a rule change would be expected. Despite this, ministers suggest they think the most likely out come is Johnson goes tonight.
5.17 p.m. – Boris isn’t ready to go
Isabel Hardman writes… Boris Johnson’s final hours as Prime Minister have been undignified. We do not yet know quite how this will end, but we know he will eventually have to quit. There is a delegation of cabinet ministers in Downing Street waiting for him – more here. Johnson found out about this group while he was in the liaison committee hearing, and was confronted about it by Darren Jones. His response shows that he is not going to accept the first plea from this cabinet delegation. He burbled on about the cost of living and how he wasn’t going to ‘give you a running commentary’ on political issues. This underlines the point made to me earlier by senior Tories that Johnson is not yet psychologically ready to accept that it is over.
In the early stages of the committee when other chairs were asking their questions, Huw Merriman used his spare time to send a letter calling for another vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. This was a change in position from someone who had previously said a leadership contest wouldn’t be the right thing for the party. Johnson, though, continued to insist that his government had ‘increasing energy’ and that it was possible to function and appoint more ministers.
A particularly surreal moment was when he started talking about his ambitions for a fertiliser round table. He even dropped into the session that he ‘probably’ met ex-KGB agent Alexander Lebedev without aides while he was Foreign Secretary – something that would have made front page news on a day when the agenda wasn’t about his downfall.
If this was his last performance as Prime Minister, it showed up one of his lesser mentioned, but still important main weaknesses. He is terrible at details, and spent much of the session struggling to offer answers to questions about what the government is doing. As much as anything else, it rather undermines his claim to be focusing on delivery, which is all about details. You might be able to deliver if you have good ministers. But Johnson is heading back to Downing Street to discover that now he really doesn’t have them either.
4.51 p.m. – Has Nadhim Zahawi turned on Boris already?
Steerpike writes… Has Nadhim Zahawi turned on Boris Johnson, just 24 hours after he was promoted to Chancellor? That’s the question all of Westminster is asking tonight amid rumours that Johnson will shortly meet with a delegation of senior cabinet ministers.
The PM is currently undergoing a two-hour grilling at the Liaison Committee where he is facing a range of issues from the national to the extremely local. It was left to Darren Jones, the Business Select Committee chairman to break the news to Boris. Jones asked if he was aware about the imminent cabal, claims to which Johnson reacted with indifference.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, eh Boris?
4.49 p.m. – The end might be nigh
James Forsyth writes… Boris Johnson is now facing a situation where if he doesn’t resign he will face more cabinet resignations. Johnson is currently in front of the liaison committee, but when he returns to his office he will have a delegation of cabinet ministers waiting to see him who will tell him he is done and that he must resign.
When I asked one ‘Is it over?’, they simply replied ‘yes’. If Johnson won’t go, he will face more cabinet resignations than he can fill. Leaving junior ministerial posts unfilled is bad, but it is simply not credible to not be filling cabinet posts.
Remarkably, one of the ministers who will tell Johnson to go is Nadhim Zahawi who was made Chancellor less than 24 hours ago. This is a sign of just how fast the mood in the parliamentary party has changed. Boris Johnson’s premiership is now in its final days, or possibly even hours.
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