Johnson vows to remain in No 10 despite Cabinet calls to quit

Boris Johnson said he was focusing on delivering for the public and his exit would only cause ‘chaos’.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

A defiant Boris Johnson has rejected calls from Cabinet colleagues to quit after support for his leadership collapsed at Westminster.

The Prime Minister met ministers in No 10 on Wednesday, where he was told he had lost the confidence of the Tory party and could not continue in office.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart were among the Cabinet ministers telling Mr Johnson to stand down.

The PA news agency understands that Ms Patel spoke to the Prime Minister to convey the “overwhelming view” of the parliamentary party.

Mr Shapps is thought to have told Mr Johnson that he stood little chance of winning another confidence vote and should instead set out a timetable for a departure on his own terms.

Reports even suggested Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed Chancellor on Tuesday, was among those taking part in the showdown with Mr Johnson.

But Mr Johnson rejected suggestions he should seek a “more dignified exit” and will instead fight for his political future – something which could  trigger further Cabinet resignations.

A source close to the Prime Minister said he told his colleagues there would be “chaos” if he quit and the party would almost certainly lose the next election.

The source said Mr Johnson was “continuing to focus on delivering for the public” and addressing the “hugely important issues facing the country”.

Neither Mr Shapps nor Mr Zahawi are expected to resign, despite the Prime Minister’s refusal to go.

Downing Street turmoil
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps leaves 10 Downing Street after talks with Boris Johnson (Suzan Moore/PA)

Allies including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg all remained supportive of Mr Johnson.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also remained loyal to Mr Johnson and defended him at a session of the backbench 1922 Committee.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, was thought to have visited Downing Street to communicate the views of backbenchers, following the meeting in Parliament dominated by MPs calling for Mr Johnson to go.

If Mr Johnson refuses to go then his fate will ultimately lie with Tory MPs. if the 1922 Committee’s rules are changed to allow another confidence vote within 12 months.

The committee’s executive did not make any immediate changes to the rules on Wednesday, but has scheduled elections for its executive committee to take place on Monday, before a result later that evening.

The new executive could decide to alter the rules, with Mr Johnson then facing a fresh battle to remain in office.

On a disastrous day for Mr Johnson, 14 ministers quit along with a string of ministerial aides, as the row over the Chris Pincher scandal unleashed a wave of pent-up frustration with his leadership.

The mass resignation was triggered by Tuesday’s departure from Cabinet of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, along with the resignation of solicitor general Alex Chalk.

The No 10 crisis talks with the Cabinet came after the Prime Minister faced an intense grilling before opposition critics and Tory MPs alike on the Commons Liaison Committee.

He did not deny reports that Cabinet minister Michael Gove told him earlier on Wednesday that he must stand down, but insisted he would still be leader on Thursday.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the “colossal mandate” he had been handed by voters in 2019 means he should keep going despite the “difficult circumstances” he faces.

But Mr Javid’s resignation statement in the House laid bare the problems facing the Prime Minister – and the former health secretary challenged other Cabinet ministers to consider their positions.

Mr Javid said Mr Johnson was not going to change and “enough is enough”.

He said: “Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.

“I will never risk losing my integrity.”

He said “the problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change”.

In a message to Cabinet ministers who decided not to quit, he said: “It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when they are not met by others.”

The speech, which had echoes of Geoffrey Howe’s 1990 resignation statement which helped topple Margaret Thatcher, was heard in silence in the Commons, with Mr Johnson sitting grim-faced on the front bench.

The 14 ministers to quit on Wednesday were Will Quince, Robin Walker, John Glen, Victoria Atkins, Jo Churchill, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien, Alex Burghart, Lee Rowley, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Rachel Maclean and Mike Freer.

In their resignation letters:

– Ex-children and families minister Mr Quince said he could not accept being sent out to defend the Prime Minister on television with inaccurate information on the Pincher row.

– Former justice minister Ms Atkins told Mr Johnson: “I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values. We can and must do better than this.”

– Ms Churchill quit as environment minister, saying: “Recent events have shown integrity, competence and judgment are all essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations.”

As well as ministers – 14% have quit since 6pm on Tuesday – a series of parliamentary private secretaries (PPS) resigned and backbench MPs from all wings of the party were also turning away from the Prime Minister.

In total, 39 MPs have resigned from appointments including PPS posts and trade envoy roles.

The leadership crisis followed the scandal surrounding former deputy chief whip Mr Pincher, who quit after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London’s Carlton Club.

Downing Street initially said Mr Johnson had no knowledge of previous allegations against Mr Pincher, but the Prime Minister later acknowledged he had been informed of inappropriate behaviour dating back to 2019, and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that point.

The Prime Minister’s authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support in June.

The loss of crunch by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton later that month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while there is still lingering resentment over coronavirus lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

In a sign that discontent stretches across the party, Lee Anderson, one of the MPs elected in 2019 in Red Wall seats who largely owe their political careers to the Prime Minister, said he too had lost faith in the leader.

The Ashfield MP pointed to the row over Mr Pincher’s appointment and said: “Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days.”

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