PMQs: Pressure to quit piles on prime minister as Tory MP defects

Published by Scott Challinor on January 19th 2022, 3:03pm

In a heated Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons on Wednesday, a defiant Boris Johnson continued to resist calls to stand down, after one of his Conservative MPs defected to Labour and former cabinet minister David Davis joined the growing list of voices calling for his departure.

Christian Wakeford, one of the Conservatives’ red wall MPs that has represented the Bury South constituency since 2019, defected to Labour minutes before the session was due to begin and crossed the chamber to join the opposition benches.

In a letter to the prime minister, Wakeford said: “You and the Conservative party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed his new colleague and once again urged the PM to go.

The prime minister has been facing ever growing pressure to quit in recent weeks in the wake of revelations that parties were allowed to go on in Downing Street while Covid restrictions were in place in England, one of which took place in May 2020 and Johnson is known to have attended.

However, the prime minister has repeatedly defended his conduct, saying that he believed the gathering to be a “work event” that was compliant with social restrictions in place at the time.

During the session, Sir Keir attacked what he called the PM’s “absurd” attempts to justify his behaviour, adding that his statement expects the public to believe that “as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn't realise it was a party”.

Sir Keir continued by asking the chamber: “If the prime minister misleads Parliament, should they resign?”

At the end of the session, Johnson’s fellow Conservative MP and ex-minister, David Davis, joined the growing list of dissenting voices, saying that the PM had refused to take responsibility for the events that had unfolded in Downing Street and called on him to go.

Davis said: “I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. So, I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain.

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go."

However, Johnson continued to defend himself, saying that he “didn’t know” what Davis was talking about and insisted that he took “full responsibility for everything done in this government and throughout the pandemic”.

The PM also called upon the chamber to show patience and await the outcome of Sue Gray’s inquiry, with the senior civil servant having been tasked with looking into the Downing Street parties and determining whether Covid rules were broken.

The prime minister said: “He [Sir Keir] is continuing to ask a series of questions which he knows will be fully addressed by the inquiry, he is wasting this House's time, he is wasting the people's time, and continues to be completely irrelevant.”

Johnson informed MPs that the outcome of Sue Gray’s inquiry would be published next week, with the civil servant having reportedly interviewed both the PM and his former aide, Dominic Cummings.

Cummings has suggested that the prime minister did mislead Parliament in his statement about the May 2020 party, claiming that he had informed Johnson in advance that the “bring your own booze” gathering could be in breach of Covid restrictions and that the PM was fully aware of the nature of the gathering. If true, this would place Johnson’s claims that he thought the party to be a work event in serious doubt.

On current Covid restrictions, Johnson confirmed that Covid Winter Plan B measures introduced in December will be allowed to expire next Thursday.

This will bring an end to the order to work from home, mandatory mask wearing and the enforcing of Covid passports in large venues.

After the session had concluded, Davis told BBC journalists that he had not gone as far as to submit a letter of no confidence in the prime minister’s leadership to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs.

The chair of the 1922 committee organises the leadership contests for the Conservative party. Should 54 letters of no confidence by forwarded by Tory MPs, it would trigger a leadership contest within the party.

At the time of writing, six Conservative MPs have publicly stated that they have submitted a no confidence letter to the committee. 

Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 19th 2022, 3:03pm

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