Divisions in the Conservative Party over the “partygate” scandal and Boris Johnson’s future as leader are bursting into the open, with some taking up the cudgels for the Prime Minister and others claiming his position is now untenable.
A fully fledged Tory Party civil war seems to have erupted, as anger over a series of leaks about alleged lockdown parties in Number 10 are engulfing Johnson’s premiership.
Six Conservative MPs have called for the Prime Minister to quit so far, arguing that a change of senior officials would not reverse the “terminal damage” done to Johnson by the allegations.
Former children’s minister Tim Loughton, in a post published on Facebook on Saturday, said: “It is not down to a simple Government policy change or a sacking of ministers or officials to put things right.
“In this case all roads lead back to Downing Street and the person whose name is on the front door.”
Senior Tory Tobias Ellwood said the Prime Minister must “lead or step aside”, telling the BBC: “We need leadership.”
Backbencher Andrew Bridgen echoed Ellwood as he argued Johnson “has lost the moral authority to lead the country”.
The North West Leicestershire MP confirmed he submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership “some time ago”.
For a leadership contest to be triggered, 54 letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister have to be submitted by Tory MPs to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, asking for a vote on the Conservative leader’s future.
Brady does not publicly state how many letters he has received, but reports suggest about 20 might have been handed in.
While strong words about Johnson have undoubtedly been said by his own faction, many Tories have come out to promptly and passionately defend him.
Veteran Tory MP Peter Bone told LBC he had found constituents in his Wellingborough seat were “clearly in support of the Prime Minister”, while former trade secretary Dr Liam Fox – who was sacked by Johnson – said it was the “wrong time” for a change of leader.
Meanwhile, Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke said the team in Downing Street were some of the “most dedicated and professional civil servants that you will find”.
The Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland told Tom Swarbrick on LBC: “There is no question in my mind that the team in Downing Street, who are obviously not just senior politicians but also some of the most dedicated and professional civil servants that you will find, are working there in the national interest.
“There is no question that mistakes have been made and that is deeply regrettable, and obviously we are all, as I say, both frustrated and upset by what has happened. But it should not be allowed to morph into a situation where we tarnish people who are doing their very best in incredibly difficult circumstances to deliver for this country.”
A handful of MPs are still sitting on the fence about “partygate”.
While Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith was heavily critical of the No 10 regime, labelling the possible lockdown breaches “unforgivable”, he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme that Cabinet Office official Sue Gray’s report would settle the question of the Prime Minister’s “authority and about his decision-making, and whether or not he knew or understood what was going on”.
Similar sentiment was put forward by Conservative MP James Wild (North West Norfolk), who told Times Radio that Johnson’s apology for the Number 10 lockdown parties should have come sooner.
But he added: “I haven’t called for him to resign. I’m not calling for him to resign at this stage and wait to see what comes out in this report and then people can take their judgment.”