Yesterday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a motion of no confidence by his fellow Conservative MPs by a margin of 211-148. The vote was announced yesterday morning by Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee – which represents backbench Conservative MPs – after the minimum threshold of 54 letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Party from Tory MPs was met. The vote followed several months of Downing Street scandals, including ‘partygate,’ allegations of corruption, and poor local election results for the Conservative Party.
Ahead of the vote, most of Johnson’s Cabinet colleagues publicly expressed their support for his leadership, though there were some resignations, including the Prime Minister’s ethics advisor. Throughout the day, a growing number of backbenchers announced they would be voting against Johnson, while a snap poll of Conservative Party members revealed that over half believed that he should be removed from office.
- Boris Johnson won the vote, but barely. While Johnson’s supporters argue the vote was a decisive victory that allows the Conservatives to move on from partygate, his margin of 58% was much slimmer than anticipated – and narrower than his predecessor Theresa May in 2018, who conceded that she would not lead the Tories into the next general election after receiving 63% of the vote in support. The source of opposition was not contained to one faction of the Conservative Party, suggesting broad-based angst against Johnson that will be difficult to contain moving forward.
- Question of when, not if. That such a significant portion of Tory MPs voted against their leader shows that Johnson’s days are numbered. MPs openly against Johnson will continue to exert pressure on the Prime Minister, while those who supported him wield even greater power on his political future. History has shown that Tory leaders rarely experience success following a no confidence vote – both May and Margaret Thatcher were no longer party leader less than a year after surviving their no confidence vote, while John Major survived for another two years before the Conservatives were routed by Labour in the 1997 general election.
- Cabinet reshuffle incoming? Under even greater pressure, Johnson may try to remain in control of his party by reshuffling his Cabinet. Media outlets have reported that Number 10 is accelerating a planned reshuffle scheduled for this summer to as soon as this week to reassert Johnson’ authority over the party and reward loyal MPs. While this reshuffle would likely target MPs critical of Johnson or who may be a threat to his leadership, demoting ministers to make room for other MPs could add further tinder for those looking to call time on the Johnson era.
- Hazards abound. The political calendar is looking increasingly feeble for Johnson’s hold on the Conservatives. Further pressure may come in the form of resignations from ministers, including those who publicly supported the Prime Minister ahead of the vote, in the coming days, or in the aftermath of critical by-election results in Wakefield and in Tiverton & Honiton on June 23. With the Conservatives widely expected to lose both seats – Wakefield to Labour and Tiverton & Honiton to the Liberal Democrats – Tory backbenchers could be riled into adjusting the current rules to allow another confidence vote to be held within the next year, something reportedly already being considered in the aftermath of yesterday’s vote.
- ‘Partygate’ remains. Should Johnson survive the coming weeks before Parliament breaks for the summer recess, he still faces an investigation by the Commons Privilege Committee on his statements on lockdown-breaking parties occurring in Downing Street. His position would certainly be called into question once more should the committee conclude this autumn that Johnson wilfully misled Parliament and breached the ministerial code.