Boris Johnson will face a vote of confidence by Tory MPs on Monday evening as discontent over the lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and the direction of the Prime Minister’s leadership reached a tipping point.
The Prime Minister was informed on Sunday that he would face the vote after Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, confirmed he had received the 54 letters from Conservative MPs needed to trigger the ballot.
The vote – by secret ballot – will take place at Westminster on Monday between 6pm and 8pm, with the count to take place immediately afterwards.
A steady stream of Tory MPs called publicly for the Prime Minister to stand down in the wake of Sue Gray’s report into breaches of the Covid regulations in No 10 and Whitehall.
But discontent goes far wider, covering the Prime Minister’s economic policies which have seen the tax burden reach the highest in 70 years, as well as his style of leadership.
In order to oust the Prime Minister, however, the rebels will need 180 MPs, and allies of Mr Johnson made clear he is determined to fight to stay on.
Speaking shortly after Sir Graham made his announcement, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News: “If there is (a vote) the Prime Minister will stand and fight his corner with a very, very strong case.”
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “Tonight is a chance to end months of speculation and allow the Government to draw a line and move on, delivering on the people’s priorities.
“The PM welcomes the opportunity to make his case to MPs and will remind them that when they’re united and focused on the issues that matter to voters, there is no more formidable political force.”
Sir Graham said he had informed Mr Johnson on Sunday that the threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party calling for a vote had been passed.
“I have followed the rules that we have in place. I notified the Prime Minister yesterday and we agreed the timetable for the confidence vote to take place,” he said.
“He shared my view, which is also in line with the rules that we have in place, that that vote should happen as soon as it could reasonably take place, and that would be today.”
He indicated some Tory MPs had submitted letters post-dated until after the end of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, which meant the contest would not clash with the extended bank holiday festivities.
Mr Johnson will address the 1922 Committee at 4pm on Monday as he battles to save his premiership and has also written to all Tory MPs.
In an indication of the anger felt on the Tory benches, former minister Jesse Norman – who had been a long-standing supporter of Mr Johnson – published a scathing letter to the Prime Minister withdrawing his support.
Mr Norman said the Gray report showed Mr Johnson “presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street” and “to describe yourself as ‘vindicated’ by the report is grotesque”.
But his criticism of Mr Johnson was far broader, including the “ugly” policy of sending migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda, the “unnecessary and provocative” privatisation of Channel 4, the ban on noisy protests which “no genuinely Conservative government” should have introduced, and the lack of a “sense of mission” in his administration.
“You are simply seeking to campaign, to keep changing the subject and to created political and cultural dividing lines mainly for your advantage, at a time when the economy is struggling, inflation is soaring and growth is anaemic at best,” Mr Norman said, warning that Mr Johnson continuing in office would be “potentially catastrophic for this country”.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who stood against Mr Johnson for the leadership in 2019, warned that the Tories would lose the next general election if the Prime Minister is allowed to remain in post.
“Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve. We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country,” he said.
“And because we are no longer trusted by the electorate, who know this too, we are set to lose the next general election.”
He added: “Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change.”
But Cabinet ministers rallied round Mr Johnson – including those who could seek to replace him if he is forced out.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The Prime Minister has my 100% backing in today’s vote and I strongly encourage colleagues to support him.
“He has delivered on Covid recovery and supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. He has apologised for mistakes made. We must now focus on economic growth.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said “the PM has shown the strong leadership our country needs”.
“I am backing him today and will continue to back him as we focus on growing the economy, tackling the cost of living and clearing the Covid backlogs,” Mr Sunak said.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said: “The PM has got the big calls right – securing life-saving vaccines, firing up our economy and standing up to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.
“We need to back him, unite and focus on delivering the people’s priorities.”
Mr Johnson’s chief of staff Steve Barclay, writing on the ConservativeHome website, said the Government was working to address the country’s economic problems and to deliver the levelling-up agenda to reduce regional inequality.
“To disrupt that progress now would be inexcusable to many who lent their vote to us for the first time at the last general election, and who want to see our Prime Minister deliver the changes promised for their communities,” he said.
Dozens of Tory MPs and ministers tweeted public messages of support on Monday morning – some including a document setting out some of the Prime Minister’s achievements and explaining why Mr Johnson has an “unmatched electoral record”.
But trade minister Penny Mordaunt, viewed as a potential leadership candidate, tweeted a message saying she would be at a D-Day commemoration event in Portsmouth, where she has her constituency.
Mr Johnson chose to focus on Ukraine for his first public comment following Sir Graham’s announcement, using a message on Twitter to highlight the rocket launchers being sent to Volodymyr Zelensky’s forces.