Boris Johnson was last night battling to put down a coup attempt by dozens of newly-elected Tories in the Red Wall, amid warnings a series of letters of no-confidence could be submitted as soon as tomorrow.
Ministers rounded furiously on the group of MPs, many of whom were only elected in 2019, after details emerged of their so-called ‘Pork Pie Plot’ to unseat the Prime Minister.
On a febrile day at Westminster, around 20 MPs are said to have held a secret lunchtime meeting to co-ordinate the submission of the ‘no confidence’ letters required to spark a Conservative leadership contest.
Fifty-four is the number required to trigger a vote, and while it is unclear how close the plotters are to reaching that figure, such discussions among so many MPs represents a worry for Mr Johnson. Seven letters are known to have gone in already, but the process is designed to be secret and more may have been received by chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
Senior party sources last night identified Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison and fellow Tory Alicia Kearns as ringleaders. The involvement of Miss Kearns, MP for Melton Mowbray, led to the coup attempt being dubbed the ‘Pork Pie Plot’.
In a bid to quell some of the unrest, the PM held meetings with groups of the 2019-intake in his Commons office last night, according to the Times.
But an analysis by the paper of Conservative MPs’ Facebook pages, websites and emails suggests anger within the party is widespread, with 58 instances spotted of Mr Johnson being criticised since last week’s apology – with 16 of these coming from those elected just over two years ago.
Boris Johnson, pictured, last night faced off a so-called ‘Pork Pie Plot’ to unseat the Prime Minister by newly-elected and Red Wall Tory MPs
Dehenna Davison with rescued puppy ‘Carter’ pictured next to Carrie Johnson with dog Dilyn and Rishi Sunak, canvasing in Bishop Auckland. She is thought to be one of the ringleaders
Some of the backbench Tory plotters include Alicia Kearns (left), who represents Melton Mowbray, and Gary Sambrook (right) from Birmingham Northfield
Another alleged conspirator, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford (left) became the seventh Tory to announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence to party shop steward Sir Graham Brady (right)
Another alleged conspirator, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, became the seventh Tory to announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence to party shop steward Sir Graham Brady. The plotters are said to have discussed submitting their letters en masse today.
A 2019 Tory MP present at the meeting told the Telegraph: ‘Did everyone talk about being angry? Yes. Do people think this is potentially terminal? Yes. Are people thinking about what’s going to happen to our party in the coming months? Yes. Are there people looking to move? Of course they are. Do I think there’s a chance that a lot of people could put their letters in? Yes, I really do.’
Ministers were outraged because the rebellion came as Mr Johnson was poised to end Covid Plan B measures and figures showed a ‘jobs miracle’ – with unemployment down to within a whisker of pre-pandemic levels.
A senior Tory source accused Miss Davison, who presents a TV show with former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, of ‘madly whipping up the Red Wallers’ against the PM.
The source also accused the plotters of hypocrisy, claiming that Miss Davison held regular drinking sessions for colleagues in her office.
A Cabinet minister accused new MPs of panicking over a slump in the polls, adding: ‘David Cameron and George Osborne were 13 points behind in the polls for three years. As Thatcher said if you aren’t behind in the polls mid term you aren’t working hard enough as a government.’
Another described the plot as ‘pretty sickening’, adding that many of the plotters were elected because of Mr Johnson – ‘most of them are a load of ******* nobodies’.
However, in a sign of the toxicity enveloping the party last night, a Tory sympathetic to the plotters hit back, saying: ‘This is belittling of many MPs that represent people who suffered throughout Covid. If No 10 are looking to repair relations with the new intake after Paterson this is not it.’
On a day of furious briefing and counter-briefing, a senior Tory source claimed that Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey had been involved in agitating against Mr Johnson.
Miss Coffey, who had a bust-up with the PM at Cabinet over the future of the BBC licence fee yesterday, denied involvement. No 10 also said the claim of disloyalty ‘did not represent the view of the Prime Minister’.
A Tory source noted that Miss Davison, Miss Kearns and Miss Coffey are all close allies of potential leadership candidate Liz Truss.
The Foreign Secretary was last night embarking on a trip to Australia and an ally said that any plotting was ‘not at her behest’, adding: ‘She is 100 per cent behind the PM.’
Fifty-four is the number required to trigger a vote, and while it is unclear how close the plotters are to reaching that figure, such discussions among so many MPs represents a worry for Mr Johnson
The claims came as:
- Mr Johnson appeared visibly upset as he spoke of his ‘bitter regret’ at staff parties in No 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral;
- Job vacancies hit a record 1.25million as the economy continued to bounce back from the pandemic;
- Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray was preparing to interview Dominic Cummings over explosive claims that the PM lied about his knowledge of lockdown parties in No 10;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced fresh questions about his loyalty after he appeared to break off a TV interview when he was asked whether the PM had his ‘unequivocal support’;
- Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt hinted he could mount another bid for the leadership, saying his ambition ‘hasn’t completely vanished’;
- Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said Mr Johnson would have to resign if he was found to have lied to parliament.
The plot came as Tory whips struggled to contain anger over the so-called ‘Partygate’ controversy.
Mr Johnson yesterday broke cover after a self-imposed period of Covid isolation to repeat that he wanted to ‘humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made’ for allowing alleged parties to take place in No 10 during lockdown.
He insisted that he believed a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering in the garden at the height of lockdown had been a ‘work event’.
And he appeared emotional as he issued a public apology to the Queen over revelations that No 10 staff held two raucous parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, where Covid rules meant she had to sit alone.
Breathing heavily behind a mask, he repeatedly declined to say whether he would resign if it was proved he intentionally misled parliament.
His downbeat performance, which was designed to show humility, appeared to harden the mood against him among some Tory MPs.
One former Cabinet minister said: ‘If the PM really wants to fight and survive then there is still a route to doing that. But he will have to fight – and it looked like the fight had gone out of him.’
Last night, there were signs that the mutiny was spreading. Tory whips are braced for a flood of no confidence letters when Miss Gray reports, potentially as soon as tomorrow, on the party allegations. It is not clear how close the plotters are to reaching the 54 needed to trigger a vote.
One former minister said a leadership challenge was now ‘inevitable’ at some point – possibly within weeks.
There were also signs that elements of the Tory Right have so far been unimpressed by headline-grabbing initiatives. They complained that an announcement the Navy would help police migrant crossings in the Channel was little more than window-dressing.
Treachery of the Red Wall traitors: After clashes in Cabinet, how ‘Pork Pie’ Tories plotted their mutiny
His working day started with a row among his top ministers around the Cabinet table.
And after a febrile day of plotting among mutinous Red Wall MPs, it only got worse for Boris Johnson.
The PM is said to have backed controversial plans to scrap the TV licence after Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey complained about the unexpected announcement by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries that the fee was being frozen.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is also believed to have been irritated that he and others only found out at short notice about Monday’s attack on the BBC, launched as part of a plan for new populist policies dubbed Operation Red Meat.
But as well as leaving several in the Cabinet put out, the move also failed in its main objective of winning over restive Tory backbenchers.
By yesterday, most had returned to Westminster with their ears ringing from complaints levelled at the PM by their angry constituents.
And although many Tory MPs owe their positions to the landslide 2019 general election victory, the figure they saw on loop on their TVs and mobile phone screens all afternoon looked under renewed pressure. Interviewed by Sky News about the never-ending stream of allegations of illegal parties and subsequent cover-ups, Mr Johnson appeared emotional.
He addressed the controversy over the May 20 party, saying: ‘If I had my time again, I would not have allowed things to develop in that way. Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that… was not a work event.’
He added: ‘Nobody told me this is an event that is against the rules, that is in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do, it should not go ahead.’
His comments were contradicted in the latest blog by Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, whose priority now appears to be bringing down his former boss.
Mr Cummings wrote: ‘The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to parliament about parties.’ While Mr Johnson repeated his humble and sincere apologies, his defence that ‘no one warned him’ provoked anger.
Chris Loder (left) who became MP for West Dorset in 2019 says many of his constituents are critical of Mr Johnson over ‘Partygate’. He also rebelled over Covid curbs last month. Meanwhile, a senior Tory source claimed that Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey (right) had been involved in agitating against Mr Johnson
As his interview at a hospital in Finchley, north London was being broadcast, a group of ‘2019-ers’ were holding an emergency meeting to discuss another No10 leaving do – that of the PM himself.
As many as 20 recently-elected MPs are believed to have gathered at 1pm in the office of one of their number, Alicia Kearns, which swiftly became known as the ‘Pork Pie Putsch’ because she represents Melton Mowbray.
Whips suspect three other relatively new backbenchers – Dehenna Davison from Bishop Auckland, Gary Sambrook from Birmingham Northfield and Chris Loder from West Dorset – of being among the ringleaders.
They are now being called the ‘grey wolves’ by some allies of the Prime Minister because ‘they were not socialised in Parliament during the pandemic’, according to Sky News.
One Cabinet source was furious at the lack of loyalty, telling The Times: ‘They were only elected because of him. Most of them are a load of f****** nobodies. It’s nuts.’
Downing Street is understood to be particularly annoyed about Miss Davison. Carrie Johnson, along with Dilyn, the PM’s dog, and Rishi Sunak had campaigned for her in 2019.
While the plotters whispered behind closed doors, another 2019-er admitted having sent in a letter of no-confidence in the PM.
Christian Wakeford, the first Tory to represent Bury South in more than 20 years, became the seventh MP known to have written to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
In total 54 such letters must be received before a vote in Mr Johnson’s future is held, but Mr Wakeford claimed that several more are waiting to be posted.
He told Yahoo News that others ‘have written the letters but haven’t sent them in yet’.
There is talk that a group of MPs could hand them in en masse after Prime Minister’s Questions today in a dramatic gesture that could lead to a confidence vote being held within days.
Yet others are concerned that if a ballot is held before the full facts of the ‘partygate’ investigation by Sue Gray are known, those still waiting on her judgment could back Mr Johnson then leave him protected from further challenge for a year.
And some believe that even if the PM is exonerated, Mr Cummings will continue to publish damaging allegations.
‘It’ll be death by a thousand blogs,’ said a source.
As MPs crowd into the Commons today to witness Mr Johnson’s latest ordeal, one of his possible successors will not be there.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was last night boarding a plane to Australia, which observers may liken to Rishi Sunak’s impromptu visit to Devon last week at the height of the Partygate crisis.
That’s gratitude! MPs sticking knife in
Dehenna Davison, 28, captured the Red Wall seat of Bishop Auckland at the 2019 election – the first time the Tories had won the constituency in almost a century.
Her campaign was helped by a visit from PM’s wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured with her above). She is said to be annoyed with the Prime Minister because two female Red Wall MPs have been promoted ahead of her.
She worked for a year as assistant to Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg as part of a politics degree at Hull University. A Brexiteer, she now presents a programme with Nigel Farage on GB News.
Dozens of new-intake and Red Wall Tory MPs launch ‘pork pie plot’ to bring down Boris Johnson