As many as 211 (59 per cent) Conservative Party MPs voted for Johnson, while 148 (41 per cent) voted against him as the leader of the party. All 359 Conservative MPs voted in a secret ballot, which took place in Westminster at 6pm local time on Monday. Sir Graham Brady, who heads the 1922 committee, which represents Conservative backbenchers, read the results out at 9pm local time.
“The parliamentary party does have confidence in Boris Johnson,” he said to loud cheers and table banging.
At least 180 MPs needed to vote that they had no confidence in Johnson for him to be forced out. But Tory rebels were 32 MPs short of toppling the PM. The scale of the vote against his leadership, however, was higher than expected, revealing deep discontentment among a significant chunk of Conservative MPs.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told TOI: “The Cabinet must now tell Mr Johnson that the game is up.”
Johnson’s result was worse than that of former PM Theresa May who won a confidence vote in her leadership in December 2018, by 200 votes (63 per cent) to 117 (37 per cent). She was ousted within six months.
Johnson was opposed by the same proportion of his MPs as Margaret Thatcher in 1990 when she secured 204 votes (55 per cent) to Michael Heseltine’s 152 (41 per cent). She announced her resignation two days later.
But Johnson appeared unperturbed by the scale of the rebellion, hailing the result as a “convincing, decisive, good and conclusive result” that would allow him to draw a line under the Downing Street lockdown party scandal and move on with the government agenda.
“It means as a government we can move on and focus on the stuff that really matters to people,” he said branding the focus on partygate as a “media obsession”.
Now, he added, the government could focus on helping people with cost of living, clearing Covid backlogs, making streets safer and continuing to unite, level up and strengthen the economy.
“I think it is a good result. When I first stood to be the leader of the Conservative Party in 2019, I did not get anything like this support in Parliament,” he said, referring to his 2019 leadership election win, when he secured 160 votes – 51 per cent – from 312 Tory MPs.
“We are going to bash on. We have a huge agenda and we are going to get it done. What matters is what we deliver and what we do and as a result of this decision by the party, we have a conclusion to something that has been dragging on for far too long,” he said.
News channel BBC, however, quoted Conservative MP Roger Gale as saying that it is very bad for the PM’s reputation. “I had not expected more than a third of the parliamentary party expressing no confidence in the PM. That is severely damaging for the PM and his reputation. I would be surprised if he is still in No 10 by the end of the Autumn. I think the PM has to go back to Downing Street and consider very carefully where he goes from here.”
The UK PM had sent a letter to every Tory MP on Monday seeking their support. He gave a speech to 1922 committee two hours before the vote, in which he said that if they “descend into some pointless fratricidal debate about the future of our party”, they will hand over the keys of No. 10 to Labour. According to some MPs who attended the private meeting, he also said he “would do it again” in relation to attending farewell events for staff during lockdown.
Under the current rules, he cannot face another leadership challenge for 12 months. But question marks remain over the future of his premiership. The parliamentary privileges committee report into whether he misled the House on Downing Street parties during lockdown is expected in the Autumn and the Tories could face a catastrophic defeat in by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton on 23 June.
But Indian-origin Cabinet ministers Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Alok Sharma stated ahead of the vote that they had confidence in Johnson.
Sunak had tweeted: “From the vaccine rollout to our response to Russian aggression, the PM has shown the strong leadership our country needs. I am backing him today and will continue to back him as we focus on growing the economy, tackling the cost of living and clearing the Covid backlogs.”
After the vote, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservative Party now believes that the British public has no right to expect honest politicians.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told the BBC: “Boris Johnson is now walking wounded and really the Conservative Party should get rid of him. We need someone in office that the British people can trust. He is fatally wounded, he limps on but he is desperately wounded.”