British PM Boris Johnson wins no-confidence vote, survives party-gate scandal
As many as 211 MPs of Tory MPs voted for Johnson compared with 148 against.
Boris Johnson held off a challenge by rebels to remain leader of the Conservative Party, though the margin of victory leaves the British prime minister weakened and laid bare the divisions that may still sink him.
In a secret ballot in the UK Parliament on Monday evening, 211 Tory MPs voted for Johnson compared with 148 against. The rebellion was bigger than the one suffered by predecessor Theresa May, who was ousted as premier six months later after failing to unite the party.
Pressure has been building on Johnson for weeks over so-called “partygate,” events in Downing Street during the pandemic for which the 57-year-old premier received a police fine. A report by senior civil servant Sue Gray found many of them shouldn’t have been allowed.
But discontent among MPs goes far beyond the illegal gatherings, and Johnson’s leadership is likely to remain unsteady despite winning the vote.
Many within his party have been frustrated at having to defend controversial policies only for the government to then U-turn. A windfall tax on energy firms was proposed by the opposition Labour Party and rejected by Johnson before he later adopted the idea. Increases in government spending have angered some Conservatives, while others are concerned his plan to rip up the Brexit deal over Northern Ireland will see their party break international law.
Recent history suggests his time in office could come to an end before he gets a chance to fight the next election, currently scheduled for 2024. In a vote over her Brexit policy, May survived a confidence vote with a majority of 83 in December 2018.
The vote itself was a blow to Johnson. It was triggered by 15% of Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in a leader who steered the party to its biggest general election win in more than three decades in 2019.
Under current rules, Tory MPs would not be allowed to hold another confidence vote for a year. However, it would be possible to to change the rules in order to hold another vote sooner.
On Monday, former minister Jesse Norman published a letter to Johnson excoriating the prime minister and accusing him of “lacking a sense of mission.” John Penrose, who Johnson appointed to lead on his anti-corruption agenda, also resigned his position. He said Johnson had broken the country’s ministerial code, which would normally lead to resignation.
Tory fears that Johnson could cost them the next election will have been heightened by new polling suggesting the party is facing defeat in two special votes on June 23.
The seat in Wakefield is among the historically Labour-voting districts in northern England -- the so-called Red Wall -- whose defections helped deliver the huge House of Commons majority for the Tories in 2019. On Sunday, pollster J.L. Partners put Labour 20 points ahead.
The Conservatives are also facing humiliation in a separate by-election in Tiverton and Honiton in southwest England. Bookmakers put the Liberal Democrats as favorites to take the Tory stronghold. Both votes were triggered by Tory MPs stepping down over separate sex scandals.