Could Boris Johnson only be prime minister for a day?
Threats of no-deal Brexit means frontrunner could face immediate no-confidence vote backed by ‘dozens’ of Tory MPs
Boris Johnson could be ousted as prime minister within 24 hours of entering Downing Street, amid growing speculation MPs could back an immediate no-confidence vote in his government.
The Times report Johnson’s campaign was told by the Conservative chief whip, Julian Smith, that there was “a high likelihood” he would lose a vote of no confidence within 24 hours of taking the job.
Were the Conservatives to lose next month’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, called after Tory MP Chris Davies’ recall over expenses fraud, the party’s wafer-thin commons majority would be cut to just three. Smith revealed that two more Tory MPs were on a “high-risk” watch list to defect from the party – enough to bring Johnson down.
The BBC says this makes the Tories’ working majority, which depends on the backing of the Democratic Unionists, “highly vulnerable to defeat if a small number of its MPs side with Labour and other opposition parties”.
Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote in January after MPs rejected her Withdrawal Agreement with the EU for the first time, however, at the time crucially no Tory MPs backed the move.
May is expected to make a valedictory appearance at Prime Minister’s Question Time on 24 July, the day before MPs are due to leave for their holidays, and then step aside for her successor.
Labour has put MPs on a three-line whip for the day after the Tory leadership result and plans to hold a no-confidence vote in the new leader immediately.
“That would set the scene for the next Tory leader facing a showdown vote on 25 July before the Commons is due to begin its summer recess,” iNews reports.
The Daily Mirror says “there is a major stumbling block - in the form of the Independent Group, also known as Change UK”.
The party's five remaining MPs who split from Tories and Labour earlier this year have previously said they would not back a no-confidence vote. “If they abstain in such a vote, that would leave Labour with an uphill struggle to amass the numbers to bring down the government” says the Mirror.
Even if Johnson manages to scrape through a confidence vote in his government before MPs break for the summer, he could face a renewed challenge in the autumn.
Tobias Ellwood, the junior defence minister, said it was possible that the decision by Johnson actively to seek no deal could push some Conservatives to support a no-confidence motion against his government.
“I believe that absolutely is the case,” Ellwood told the BBC. “I think a dozen or so members of parliament would be on our side, would be voting against supporting a no deal and that would include ministers as well as backbenchers.”
Politics Home said the government’s slim Commons majority “means that a rebellion of that size is likely to bring it down - and could force the next Prime Minister to hold a general election”.
Ellwood’s comments were echoed by former chancellor Ken Clarke, who told MPs he would be prepared to bring down his own government in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
The father of the House of Commons and longest serving Tory MP said that he would be prepared to vote with the opposition in a confident motion, even if it was tabled by Labour, although he acknowledged that by doing so “it might trigger an election, it might trigger a change of government without an election”.
According to the Daily Mail, “those who have signalled they could revolt to stop no deal include Chancellor Philip Hammond and former attorney general Dominic Grieve - although they are likely to wait until the new prime minister’s intentions are crystal clear.”
On Sunday Grieve claimed that the next prime minister would not “survive very long” if they attempted to pursue no-deal.
“His comments will heighten fears among Boris Johnson's supporters that a number of Remainer MPs could scupper his chances of delivering on his central pledge to leave the European Union by 31 October, with or without a deal,” says the Daily Telegraph.
The former foreign secretary used his weekly column to appeal directly to Leave-supporting Tory members, doubling down on his pledge to leave on the 31 October no matter what.
“This time we are not going to bottle it. We are not going to fail,” he wrote.
The threat by some Tory MPs to bring down the government in this eventuality “will also provide ammunition for Jeremy Hunt, who has warned that Johnson’s promise to Conservative members could be thwarted by Parliament, which is determined to block no-deal”m says the Telegraph..
The Guardian reports Hunt has argued that “warnings such as those from Ellwood about no-confidence motions made proper scrutiny all the more necessary”.
“In that situation, is he going to have an election in order to get a majority in parliament for a no-deal Brexit? I think Conservative party members need to know the answer to those questions,” he said.