Ballot closes as UK’s Johnson faces confidence vote

Tory MPs trigger a vote that could remove Johnson as UK’s prime minister as well as the Conservative Party leader.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street
Johnson departs 10 Downing Street in London [File: Andy Rain/EPA]

The politicians of the UK’s governing Conservative Party have taken part in a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could remove him as Britain’s leader as well as the head of the Conservative Party.

Party official Graham Brady said early on Monday he had received enough letters from Members of Parliament demanding a vote on Johnson’s leadership to trigger one. That happens if 54 Tory politicians – 15 percent of the party’s group in the House of Commons – write to Brady.

“The threshold of 15 percent has been passed,” Brady said.

Voting began in person in the House of Commons at 6pm (17:00 GMT) and ended at 8pm. Results were expected at 9pm.

Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera it was not surprising that the Tory lawmakers requested the vote.

“The polling for the Conservative Party has taken a fairly dramatic downturn in recent weeks, in particular the polling numbers of Boris Johnson, which had never been that great, really headed south over the last few weeks,” he said.

“For the Conservative MPs, the key issue is who is going to be best able to help them keep their seats in the next election and Boris Johnson became more of a liability than an asset in that regard.”

If Johnson loses the vote among the 359 Conservative politicians, he will be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. If he wins, he cannot face another challenge for a year.

The vote is a chance “to draw a line and move on”, a Downing Street spokesperson said, shortly after the vote was announced.

“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,” the spokesperson added.

A majority of Conservative politicians – or 180 – would have to vote against Johnson for him to be removed – a level some Conservatives say might be difficult to reach.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from London, said: “The last time there was a successful vote of no-confidence in a prime minister was in 1979. That’s going back a few years. Most prime ministers win these sort of things and I think most people are expecting Boris Johnson to survive this one.”

“It doesn’t mean that he is out of the woods. The nature of the victory would be crucial … Does he squeak through? Is it conclusive?”

‘Partygate’ scandal

Johnson has been struggling to turn a page on months of ethics scandals, most notably over rule-breaking parties in government buildings during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Late last month, senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report on what has become known as “Partygate” slammed a culture of rule-breaking inside the prime minister’s No 10 Downing St office.

Gray described alcohol-fuelled bashes held by Downing Street staff members in 2020 and 2021, when pandemic restrictions prevented UK residents from socialising.

Gray said the “senior leadership team” must bear responsibility for “failures of leadership and judgement”.

The prime minister said he was “humbled” and took “full responsibility” – but insisted it was now time to “move on” and focus on Britain’s battered economy and the war in Ukraine.

But a growing number of Conservatives feel that Johnson, the charismatic leader who won them a huge parliamentary majority in 2019, is now a liability.

‘Very good alternatives’

If Johnson is removed it would prompt a Conservative leadership contest, in which several prominent government ministers are likely to run.

Conservative politician Roger Gale, a Johnson critic, said “we have some very good alternatives to the prime minister so we’re not short of choice”.

“Any single one of those people in my view would make a better prime minister than the one that we’ve got at the moment,” he told the BBC.

Discontent seems to have come to a head over a parliamentary break that coincided with celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

For many, the four-day long weekend was a chance to relax – but there was no respite for Johnson, who was booed by some onlookers as he arrived for a service in the queen’s honour at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies