Tory MPs will be ready in sufficient numbers to force Boris Johnson out of Downing Street within weeks if he tries to dodge responsibility for rule-breaking parties at No 10, the Observer has been told.
While most Conservative MPs say they are waiting for a report into so-called “partygate” by the senior civil servant Sue Gray before deciding the prime minister’s fate, large numbers admit privately that their minds are effectively made up and that they are merely observing “due process”.
What has convinced many Tory MPs to act against Johnson if he or the Downing Street operation is criticised directly or indirectly by Gray – and he then tries to fight on – has been the furious reaction from their constituents to new revelations of partying, including two events late into the night at No 10, on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last April when such gatherings were forbidden.
An Opinium poll for the Observer will spread further alarm in Conservative ranks.
It shows Labour taking a 10-point lead over the Tories, with Johnson’s personal ratings collapsing to levels equivalent to Theresa May at her lowest ebb. It also shows that 46% of Leave voters who backed the Conservatives at the 2019 election say Johnson should resign, suggesting the coalition he put together to win an 80-strong majority in parliament is fracturing.
The Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former foreign office minister, said that Johnson had to demonstrate within days that he could end the chaos for good and demonstrate a new kind of leadership. “But if he tries to spin his way out of a critical report, he will lose my support,” he said.
So far only a handful of Tory MPs have called publicly for Johnson to go. To trigger a vote of confidence in him, 54 MPs or more need to write to the chair of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers asking for one. If Johnson were to lose such a vote, he has to step down.
Another senior figure in the party said MPs were in a holding pattern. The Tory MP for Waveney in Suffolk, Peter Aldous, said he was close to calling for Johnson’s head though he would wait for the Gray report, adding that many pro-Brexit voters in his constituency were among those who were outraged at what had been going on.