UK PM defiant despite 'partygate' defection

Johnson faced a grilling in parliament about lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office

Johnson faced a grilling in parliament about lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office

UK PARLIAMENT/AFP | JESSICA TAYLOR

LONDON - Britain's embattled prime minister on Wednesday vowed to fight on as leader to the next general election, despite moves by his own MPs to oust him due to public fury over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Boris Johnson insisted he would win any vote of no confidence called by Conservative MPs, many of whom are furious at revelations that his staff were partying while the rest of the country was in strict lockdowns against Covid.

With the opposition Labour party riding high, and inflation reaching a near 30-year peak, Johnson is struggling to regain the initiative, starting with an announcement that he is lifting most Covid restrictions in England.

Seven of his own MPs have publicly called for him to quit, including former cabinet minister David Davis

Seven of his own MPs have publicly called for him to quit, including former cabinet minister David Davis

PRU/AFP | -

Seven Tories have publicly called on Johnson to quit and more than 20 others were reported to have coalesced in an organised revolt, including several who won office in 2019 when he smashed Labour in a landslide.

Conservative grandee David Davis became the most high profile of Johnson's opponents, suggesting in parliament he should "go now".

A new poll commissioned by TV network Channel 4 said many of the 2019 Tory intake would be wiped out in a future election if Johnson remains, and gave Labour an 11-point lead overall.

- Tears for fears? -

Just minutes before Johnson faced Labour leader Keir Starmer in parliament, Conservative MP Christian Wakeford announced a shock move to the opposition party.

Wakeford said in a letter to Johnson that "you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves". 

Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected from the Tories to the main opposition Labour party

Tory MP Christian Wakeford defected from the Tories to the main opposition Labour party

PRU/AFP | -

He represents the seat of Bury South near Manchester, one of 45 constituencies across northern England that Johnson's Tories captured from a shellshocked Labour party in 2019.

Johnson shrugged off the blow, as a laughing Starmer pointed to Wakeford sitting in the Labour ranks at Prime Minister's Questions. 

"The Conservative party won Bury South for the first time in generations under this prime minister... and we will win again in Bury South at the next election under this prime minister," Johnson said.

Approval rating for Johnson's government

Approval rating for Johnson's government

AFP | Gal ROMA

The next election is due in 2024, and a spokeswoman for the prime minister insisted that he would also fight any no-confidence vote. 

"He's entirely focused on his job and on delivering for the British public," she told reporters, while denying reports that Johnson had broken down in tears during one crunch meeting with backbenchers.

Starmer said Johnson was "defending the indefensible" over the parties, including two held as Britain was in mourning for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's consort for seven decades.

Criticism intensified after Johnson gave a strained television interview on Tuesday, in which he claimed not to be aware that at least one "bring your own booze" event in Downing Street would breach the Covid lockdown rules that he had set.

- 'Pork pie plot' -

Afterwards, the group of more than 20 Tory MPs reportedly met to air their concerns about Johnson's leadership.

Johnson's insistence the gatherings were work events have caused public anger

Johnson's insistence the gatherings were work events have caused public anger

AFP | JUSTIN TALLIS

Their bid to unseat the prime minister was dubbed the "pork pie plot" because one of the MPs involved represents Melton Mowbray, a town in central England known for making the pastry-covered meat products. 

"Pork pies" is also Cockney rhyming slang for "lies" -- which most voters believe Johnson is guilty of spreading over the "partygate" affair, according to several opinion polls.

At least 54 Tory MPs need to send letters calling for the prime minister's resignation to trigger a party leadership challenge. 

Andrew Bridgen, one of the seven rebels, said the threshold in the secretive process could be reached "this week" and a vote held early next week.

In parliament, Johnson again urged all sides to await the findings of an inquiry he has ordered into the parties.

The drip-feed of revelations is overshadowing Johnson's attempts to reboot his premiership with a series of policy announcements.

He said Wednesday that he was scrapping requirements for people to work from home, to wear face masks in public settings, and to show vaccine passports on entry to larger events.

After the Omicron variant emerged, Britain's daily caseload for Covid topped a record 200,000 infections in early January, but has now dropped to less than half that.

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By Jitendra Joshi

Source
AFP

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