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Distraction doesn’t mean Boris Johnson is out of the woods
Westminster Correspondent, BBC News
British politics, particularly Prime Minister’s Questions, is often compared to a theatre.
But like many great dramas, it’s
often a surprising character who provides the plot twist.
Today’s defection to Labour from
the, formerly Tory, MP Christian Wakeford has managed to unite Boris Johnson’s
critics and supporters on his backbenches.
One former minister, who has
strongly criticised the handling of parties in Downing Street, said Wakeford
had provided an “alternative target for rage” and calmed the mood in the Tory
Peers of Christian Wakeford,
elected alongside him in 2019, have described feeling burned - “betrayed”, “let
down” and upset by his actions.
In a party where loyalties were
all over the place last night - Tory MPs have united in feeling his behaviour
was perhaps ‘disloyalty gone one step too far’.
But this distraction doesn’t
mean Boris Johnson is out of the woods. More than a dozen Tory MPs are believed
to have submitted letters of no confidence in him. The exact number is
still unknown. More Tory MPs are waiting until Sue Gray’s report is published
before expressing their anger publicly.
Wakeford’s defection may have
stuck a plaster over some of the Tory party fractures — but last night’s
briefing war between different groups of the party shows just how fragile the
situation still is for Boris Johnson.
We need time and space for parties investigation - Javid
Speaking during the No 10 Covid briefing that's going on at the moment, Health Secretary Sajid Javid says "we have all been pained and angered" by photos and videos of parties at Downing Street during lockdown - but it is right that Boris Johnson responds after the investigation is concluded.
Javid says the prime minister has apologised, and there needs to be "time and space for the investigation to be completed".
What do Tory rebels need to do to remove Johnson?
As Boris Johnson battles an attempt from some of his own MPs to end his leadership, it's worth recapping what exactly his Tory critics will have to do to oust him.
Under Tory party rules, forcing a vote on his leadership would require 15% of the party's MPs - that's 54 out of 359 - to submit letters of no confidence in him.
The letters have to be sent to the chair of the backbench 1922 committee, who by convention does not disclose how many have been sent in unless the threshold is reached.
If more than 50% of Tory MPs then approved a motion of no confidence in him, a leadership contest to replace him would then follow.
No confidence vote getting closer, Scottish Tory leader says
BBC Scotland Political Editor
The Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, has said he thinks the trigger point for a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson’s leadership is “near” and “getting closer”.
Ross said he submitted a letter calling for a vote last week and would need 53 other Tory MPs to do the same for that to go ahead.
The prime minister’s spokesperson has confirmed Johnson would fight a formal attempt to oust him.
Asked why his calls for the PM to go had not been echoed by other Scottish Tory MPs, Ross said it was “perfectly legitimate” for them to reach their own conclusions.
The Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, has said he’s backing Johnson 100% and expressed hope that Ross could change his view if the PM was “exonerated”.
Downing Street Covid briefing under way
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is currently holding a news conference in Downing Street to outline the latest update to Covid guidelines.
MP Christian Wakeford's constituents divided by move to Labour
BBC Look North
Getty ImagesCopyright: Getty Images
More now from Bury South where voters in the town of Prestwich are reacting to the news that their MP - who in 2019 turned their red wall seat blue - has now switched from Tory to Labour.
Many here told me that it was not Brexit that persuaded voters to turn to the Conservatives, but the anti-Semitism row, which persuaded them to turn away from Labour at the last general election.
One gentleman told me he doesn’t think it’s wise of Christian Wakeford to defect to Labour, as he can't see the Jewish community in the constituency - which make up around a fifth of the population - welcoming the move.
A couple of loyally Conservative-voting women told me they “really like” Wakeford as an MP. They said that he is very engaged within the community. But one of them told me that she simply cannot stomach voting for him again, as she “could never vote labour”.
However, a lifelong Labour supporter said she would now give him her vote, and believes his defection reflected well on him.
These responses from the people of Prestwich might be predictably party loyal.
But what will be interesting is whether voters feel that Labour has done enough to distance itself from the anti-Semitism row, or whether that remains an obstacle to their support for their newly Labour MP.
Young Labour 'does not welcome Wakeford'
The Labour Party's youth wing has not welcomed the decision to accept MP Christian Wakeford.
In a tweet, Young Labour said that Wakeford had "consistently voted against the interests of working-class people".
Since the announcement from Wakeford and the Labour Party earlier today, there have been several calls for a by-election. In 2020, Wakeford supported a backbench bill, which called for any MP who switches parties to face a recall petition.
Quote Message: No question can be put which brings the name of the Sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the Sovereign or the royal family. from Erskine May
No question can be put which brings the name of the Sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the Sovereign or the royal family.
Questions are, however, allowed on issues such as the cost of royal events and palaces.
A big day, broken down
It's been busy. Let's take a step back for a moment and reflect what’s happened so far on a day of drama in Westminster:
The 2019-ers: Overnight, it emerged that a group of Conservative MPs who won seats in traditional Labour heartlands in 2019 were reportedly plotting to remove Boris Johnson from Downing Street. This morning, there was fevered speculation about whether these MPs would push to oust Johnson from office.
Context: If 54 Tory MPs submit letters to the chairman of a Conservative Party committee, Sir Graham Brady, it would trigger a leadership contest.
PMQs: Fighting for his political life, Johnson answered MPs' questions about Downing Street parties held during Covid restrictions in a stormy session of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Johnson of providing "absurd" defences over parties. The PM apologised for "misjudgements" but again urged MPs to wait for the results of an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Earlier on, the prime minister's press secretary addressed Christian Wakeford's departure from the Conservative Party.
She said "we're obviously sorry to see a colleague - who was elected by constituents, who voted for a Boris Johnson-led government - leave and attempt to put Keir Starmer into No 10, which will be a disaster for the country".
As Wakeford switched to Labour earlier today, he accused the prime minister of being "incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves".
A Labour spokesman said the party had been in talks with Wakeford for "some time" and their contact started before the Downing Street party allegations.
The view from Bury South - Wakeford's constituency
BBC Look North
Jackie Patchick, left, voted for MP Christian Wakeford in the last election. She says she likes him and always votes Conservative. Jackie is disappointed that he switched to Labour today and she isn't sure if she will vote for him in the next election.
Adele Frieslander, above right, likes Wakeford as an MP and but says she will really have to think about whether she will vote for him next time, now that he is with Labour.
Alice Beesley has always voted for Labour and she says that she would never vote for the Tories. Now that Wakeford has switched, Alice thinks she would vote for him and thinks the move reflects well on him.
Meanwhile, David, below, says he is not sure if it was a wise move for the MP. He says the Tories only won the seat last time because of Labour's anti-Semitism row. David wonders if the large Jewish community in Wakefield's constituency would accept him now that he has defected.
Cabinet minister accuses Tory plotters of 'schoolboy politics'
A cabinet minister loyal to Boris Johnson has accused Tory rebels plotting to oust the PM of "playing schoolboy politics", adding "it's running into the ground".
"I'm hearing letters are being removed as they lose their bottle," the minister adds.
But another MP tells me this claim is "rubbish" - and the division in the Tory party between Remainers and Leavers is being replaced by factions for and against the prime minister.
It is fair to say that David Davis's intervention at PMQs won't necessarily unleash another load of calls for the prime minister to resign.
However, it is a clear demonstration that there is unhappiness with the PM in different parts of the Tory party, not just among MPs elected in 2019.
I am fully supportive of the prime minister, says treasury secretary
PA MediaCopyright: PA Media
And amid claims that the mood among Tory MPs is calming, Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke has brushed off a call by senior Tory David Davis for Boris Johnson to resign as prime minister.
"I disagree very strongly with David Davis, I disagree very strongly with Christian Wakeford [who defected to Labour earlier], he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.
"The prime minister was very clear we will get on with the job of getting the country through the pandemic," he says.
"The priority now is to make sure that this country which has, like much of the world, gone through such difficult times in the last two years is now in a position to come out of the pandemic really strongly. We have the strongest economic growth in the world.
"I am fully supportive of the prime minister."
Ex-minister: Wakeford defection helped calm mood
Westminster Correspondent, BBC News
A former cabinet minister has told the BBC that Christian Wakeford's defection has "provided an alternative target for rage".
The senior Tory MP said Wakeford's defection had "calmed" the mood on the Conservative backbenches.
They said his defection was the "discussion of the hour" and lots of Tory MPs were "venting" frustration about it - both Boris Johnson loyalists and those who were "very upset" with the prime minister last night.
They criticised Wakeford's behaviour and the timing of his defection before PMQs.
View from Bury South: What do constituents make of MP's defection?
As we've been reporting, MP Christian Wakeford left the Conservative benches and walked across the floor to join Labour this lunchtime.
So what do constituents think of the Bury South MP's dramatic defection?
At Rosylee coffee house, opposite Wakeford's office, Debbie Clark, 52, says she voted Conservative for the first time at
the last election.
“I am disgusted,” she tells me. “I voted for the party. He should resign and we should
have an election.”
Her husband Fred agrees: “He should not have the right to go to Labour."
On the table next to them is 51-year-old Maxine Ballington. She
also voted Conservative.
She too is shocked by today’s defection but wants Boris Johnson to resign.
“I’ve lost two people to Covid. People were fined for having
house parties. How can he go to a party at Downing Street?” she says.
Outside Wakeford's constituency office one man told me he wasn’t surprised.
But as he waits to pick up his wife from a beauty salon, he insists the prime minister hadn't done anything wrong and described the defection an
PM will fight any confidence motion - No 10
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's press secretary has confirmed that he will fight a confidence motion, if one is called.
Asked if the prime minister still thought he was the best man for the job, his press secretary replied: "Yes."
She said the prime minister would continue meeting with MPs this afternoon.
She also denied reports that Johnson had been in tears at a meeting yesterday and said that he was "entirely focused on his job and on delivering for the British people".
Bury South will not see by-election, Labour suggests
A Labour spokesman has indicated the party's leader believes there will be no need to hold a by-election in Bury South following Christian Wakeford's defection.
Asked if, as far as Sir Keir Starmer is concerned, there is no principle requiring anyone who defects from one party to another to stand for re-election, the spokesman said: "Correct."
On whether Wakeford will face a trigger ballot in the coming months, the spokesman added: "We'll set out all of the process, obviously, once we've had a chance to speak to people, the relevant people that vote in the local party and nationally, and we'll happily set out the process at that point.