‘In the name of God, go’ – Tory backbencher Davis calls on Boris Johnson to resign
Boris Johnson’s last-ditch defence of his beleaguered premiership was thrown into chaos when one of his MPs defected to Labour just minutes before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Christian Wakeford, who was elected in Bury South in 2019, crossed the floor, saying the Conservatives had “shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves".
He said he could no longer support “a government that has shown itself consistently out of touch with the hard-working people” of the country.
In a bullish session in the Commons, Johnson said the Tories had “won Bury South for the first time in generations under this Prime Minister, with an agenda of uniting and levelling up and delivering for the people of Bury South, and we will win again in Bury South at the next election under this Prime Minister.”
One senior Labour source told Sky News that more defections could be imminent, saying “Operation Domino” was underway.
In another extraordinary intervention, a former Tory Brexit minister used a question to the Prime Minister to call on him to resign.
David Davis told MPs: “ I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take.”
He added: “Yesterday he did the opposite. I will remind him of a quotation from Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain in 1940: ‘You have sat there too long for the good you are doing… in the name of God, go.’”
Johnson said the veteran backbencher should wait for the publication of the investigation into the Whitehall parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
But regardless of that report, the Prime Minister could soon face a leadership contest. A number of Tory MPs have written to Sir Graham Brady, the leader of the backbench 1922 committee asking him to trigger a vote of no confidence. Under the party’s rules, just 54 MPs need to submit letters to Brady for the process to begin.
There is some speculation that that number is close to being reached, with around 20 of the 107 Tory MPs elected in 2019 submitting letters.
One of letter was submitted by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross last week. Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday afternoon, he said the number was "getting closer and closer" to 54.
He added: “I think it is near, but while members can submit letters, they can also withdraw their letters and I know there is a significant operation going on by the whips at the moment encouraging colleagues who may have submitted a letter to withdraw it again.
"I do think we’re on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, it’s going up and down, but I think most people believe we are getting closer to the 54 number than further away.”
Earlier, Labour leader Keir Starmer criticised Johnson’s defence for his attendance at the “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden at the height of the first lockdown, saying it required the public to believe that “as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party”.
In an interview yesterday, Johnson seemed to suggest he did not know that the party was against the rules, telling Sky News: "Nobody said to me that this was an event that is against the rules".
In the Commons, Starmer said: ”The Prime Minister’s account gets more extraordinary with each version of his defence. If the Prime Minister’s new defence were true, it requires him to suggest that his staff are not being truthful when they say they warned him about the party.
“It requires the Prime Minister to expect us to believe that whilst every other person who was invited on May 20 to the party was told it was a social occasion, he alone was told it was a work meeting.
“It also requires the Prime Minister to ask us to accept that as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party.”
Johnson hit back, saying “lots of people are interested in the exact legal justification” for a picture of the Labour leader “drinking a pint of beer, of a bottle of beer”.
SNP leader Ian Blackford said the Prime Minister was “laughing at the British public.”
“The Prime Minister is taking the public for fools, nobody believes him. Will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility, resign, go, Prime Minister,” he added.
Johnson replied: “No, but I thank him for his question again and let me just remind him that there’s an inquiry that is due to conclude. I believe he is wrong in what he asserts, but we’ll have to wait and see what the inquiry says.
“The most important thing from the point of view of the UK government is that we’re coming out of the restrictions that we’ve been in. I’m delighted to see that that’s happening in Scotland as well.”
Johnson was also asked by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock if he agreed with Jacob Rees-Mogg that Douglas Ross was “lightweight”.
The Prime Minister failed to defend the Scottish Tory leader. He said: “The Conservative approach to the Union is one that I think is right for our country. We want to keep it together. And I think Conservatives in Scotland do an excellent job and that's why their stout defence of the union was repaid at the last election. And Labour is increasingly endangering our union.”