Boris Johnson has said he will still be prime minister in October despite a growing number of Conservative MPs calling publicly for him to go. Doubts about Mr Johnson’s future in Downing Street have grown since he failed to persuade his own backbenchers to block a parliamentary investigation into whether he lied to MPs over lockdown-breaking parties.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi on Friday, Mr Johnson insisted that he would still be prime minister by the time Indians celebrate Diwali in October.
“I think that what people want in our country is for the government to get on and focus on the issues on which we were elected,” he said.
The decision to authorise an investigation by the Commons privileges committee means that the controversy over Downing Street parties could continue for months. The Metropolitan Police said this week they would not announce any further fines over the parties until after next month’s local elections.
The Commons investigation will not begin until after the police have issued all their fines and senior civil servant Sue Gray publishes her full report into the parties. Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of the Commons defence committee, said the party’s MPs were moving towards a challenge to the prime minister.
“All MPs are deeply troubled by what the party is now going through and what to do next, given the huge credit you must give to Boris Johnson in bringing the party so far. But we must stop drinking the Kool-Aid that’s encouraging us to think this is all going to disappear and that we can all move on. We can’t use Ukraine as a fig leaf to dodge those difficult questions – the issue of Partygate continues to distract from both domestic and international issues and is just not going away,” he told Sky News.
To remove Mr Johnson as prime minister, at least 54 MPs must write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers calling for a no-confidence vote in his leadership of the Conservative Party. If he survives such a vote, he cannot be challenged for 12 months but if he loses he cannot be a candidate in the subsequent leadership election.
Mr Ellwood predicted a steady trickle of letters and resignations, adding that the silence of most MPs reflected a lack of support for the prime minister and a growing conviction that it was time for a new leader.
“There’s a recognition that every MP now realises it’s up to us to take ownership of this. Because, I’m afraid, the absence of discipline, of focus and leadership in No 10 during that lockdown period has led to a huge breach of trust with the British people,” he said.
“It’s causing such long-term damage to the party’s brand and that’s proving difficult to repair. Can it be repaired in time for the next general election? So it’s beholden upon all Conservative MPs, then, to take matters into their own hands. And I think this is where things will go; particularly as we have more bad news to follow.”