UK Conservatives growing restive over Johnson's leadership

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, London, Thursday May 26, 2022, the day after the publication of the Sue Gray report into parties in Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s time for the government to “move on” after months of scandal. Some of his Conservative Party colleagues think it’s time he moved on instead.

A dozen Conservative lawmakers have called for a vote on Johnson’s leadership since last week, when an investigator’s report blamed “failures of leadership and judgment” by the prime minister and senior officials for allowing boozy government parties that broke the U.K.’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Under Tory party rules, a no-confidence vote in the leader will be triggered if 15% of party lawmakers — currently 54 — write letters calling for one.

Bob Neill, a senior Conservative legislator who chairs the House of Commons Justice Committee, said Tuesday it was “in the party’s interest, and actually the country’s interest, for him to move on.”

Lawmaker John Stevenson said he had sent a letter because a confidence vote was the only way to “draw a line” under recent controversies.

Johnson said last week that senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report should put an end to the “partygate” scandal, which saw 83 people, including Johnson, fined by police over parties in government buildings in 2020 and 2021.

Johnson said he took “full responsibility” and was sorry — but denied he knowingly broke any rules or lied when he told Parliament last year that there had been no parties. He said it was time to “move on” and focus on grappling with issues like Britain’s cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

But a growing number of Conservative lawmakers are calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson, who won the party a big parliamentary majority in 2019 but has been dogged by questions about his ethics and judgment.

Former attorney general Jeremy Wright said “partygate” had damaged “the institutions and authority of government” and concluded that “for the good of this and future governments, the prime minister should resign.”

If Johnson lost a confidence vote, he would be replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister. If he won, he could not face another challenge for a year.

It’s unclear how many letters have been sent but it’s likely more than the 28 Conservative lawmakers who have called publicly for Johnson to quit. There is a growing feeling in the Conservative Party that the 54 threshold will be reached in the next few weeks.

Former Conservative leader William Hague said he thought Johnson “is in real trouble” and a vote was inevitable.

“I think the Sue Gray report has been one of those sort of slow-fuse explosions in politics,” Hague told Times Radio.

He said “the Conservative Party will need to resolve this one way or another, obviously because to be an effective party they either need to rally behind the prime minister they’ve got, or they need to decide to force him out.”