In Depth

‘D-Day for Boris Johnson’: how does a no confidence vote work?

Newly elected MPs plan to submit letters to 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady

A group of Conservative MPs are reportedly conspiring in a plan dubbed the “pork pie plot” to oust Boris Johnson over the Downing Street party scandal.

According to The Telegraph, as many as 20 MPs elected in 2019, “many representing former Labour heartland ‘Red Wall’ seats, met to discuss his fate” yesterday.

The newspaper’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope tweeted that the rebels were “planning to submit letters of no confidence” in the prime minister today, which could tip the balance required for a vote. One of the MPs told Hope that it could be Johnson’s “D-Day”, adding: “His time has gone.”

Johnson looked “defeated” yesterday as he made his first public appearance in almost a week, in an interview with Sky News, said the broadcaster’s Beth Rigby. The PM apologised again for the two lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral last April.

But Johnson defended himself against criticism for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the No. 10 garden on 20 May 2020. “Nobody said to me that this was an event that is against the rules,” he said.

While some MPs and ministers have defended their party leader, an insider told Rigby: “The question is when enough decide they want it over and how quickly.”

The fatal blow

Johnson’s tally of political enemies appears to be growing amid reports of the “pork pie plot” meeting, so-called because it was allegedly hosted by Alicia Kearns, the MP for Melton, though “she denies leading any plot”, said The Telegraph.

The plot claims came after Johnson’s former top aide accused him of lying. Dominic Cummings said the PM was warned against attending the “bring your own booze” garden party at No. 10 and “would swear under oath this is what happened”.

Cummings, who has admitted to wanting Johnson out of office, claimed he personally warned his then boss against the party, telling him: “You’ve got to grip this madhouse.”

ITV’s Robert Peston said that a “dynamite” email mentioned by Cummings on his blog could prove to be “essential evidence” in Sue Gray’s inquiry into Downing Street lockdown parties. Reportedly sent by an unnamed senior official to party organiser Martin Reynolds to warn against the No. 10 gathering, the email could help civil servant Gray decide whether Johnson “knowingly broke the lockdown rules on 20 May, and whether the prime minister has also committed the cardinal political sin of misleading Parliament”.

If he is found to have misled parliament, political tradition - and the ministerial code - would call for his resignation. But his own MPs could also call for a vote of no confidence against him.

The vote

In the Conservative Party, a no-confidence vote is triggered if 15% of the party’s MPs – which would be 54 of the 260 Tory MPs in the current government – write to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, to request the move. Under new rules introduced at Christmas, MPs no longer need to “physically hand” letters over to Brady and can instead email them to him.

Only Brady knows how many letters have been sent, keeping a secret tally until the threshold is reached. 

Under party rules, only a simple majority is needed for the PM to hold on to the top job – but he would be ousted if more than half of MPs voted against him.

If he were to survive the vote, another no-confidence vote could not be held against him for at least another year. If he did not, a leadership contest would be triggered, in which Johnson would not be able to stand.

A long list of Tory contenders would be whittled down by MPs to just two, before the 100,000-strong Conservative party membership hold a one-member-one-vote election to pick their new leader – who would also become the next PM of the United Kingdom.

Seven Tories have openly called on Johnson to resign, but estimates of how many letters Brady has received are “hugely speculative”, said the BBC’s Iain Watson. Letters can also be withdrawn, he added, so Johnson’s performance at PMQs today, and “then the tone of his response to Sue Gray, may yet tip the balance back in his favour”.

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