The Pork Pie assassins: Boris faces make-or-break PMQs as TWENTY Red Wall Tory MPs threaten to put in no-confidence letters TODAY after car-crash Partygate interview – while minister sent out to defend premier admits apology is ‘not good enough’ for voters
- Boris Johnson is struggling to quell a so-called ‘Pork Pie Plot’ with dozens of Red Wall MPs threatening coup
- Around 20 MPs are thought to have held a secret lunchtime meeting on plans to force Tory leadership contest
- Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison and fellow Tory Alicia Kearns were identified as ringleaders by sources
Boris Johnson is facing a make-or-break PMQs today as dozens of Red Wall Tories threaten to put in no-confidence letters within hours amid rising anger over Partygate.
The party is plunging into meltdown as ministers round on a group of newly-elected MPs over a coup attempt branded the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ – because one of the plotters represents Melton Mowbray.
Around 20 MPs are said to have held a meeting yesterday lunchtime to coordinate sending letters required to spark a vote on ousting Mr Johnson. The revolt was fuelled by the premier’s car-crash interview in which he appeared close to tears when grilled about the litany of allegations about lockdown breaches in Downing Street.
There is speculation that the threshold of 54 letters to trigger a full no confidence vote could even be reached today – although 1922 chair Sir Graham Brady keeps the tally a closely-guarded secret.
Seven MPs have publicly confirmed contacting Sir Graham, but the true figure could be significantly higher. A desperate attack by ministers and whips – including branding them ‘f***** nobodies’ seems to have backfired.
Defence minister James Heapppey was sent out to put the case for the PM this morning and said he ‘trusted’ the leader, but conceded he too had been ‘battered’ by voters.
‘I choose to believe what the Prime Minister has said. But I know that that’s not good enough for many of my constituents,’ he said.
Mr Heappey said: ‘I think everybody in Government, everybody in Parliament, is acutely concerned about what has happened and the reaction of the public.
‘Our boss is not the Prime Minister. Our boss is those who send us to Westminster to represent us and they are furious at what they have heard, and so it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that every single member of the Government, every single member of the party, is balancing those two loyalties.’
Senior party sources last night identified Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison and fellow Tory Alicia Kearns as ringleaders, while Gary Sambrook from Birmingham Northfield and Chris Loder from West Dorset are also thought to have had prominent roles.
The involvement of Ms Kearns, MP for Melton Mowbray, led to the coup attempt being dubbed the ‘Pork Pie Plot’.
In a bid to quell the unrest, the PM held meetings with groups of the 2019-intake in his Commons office last night, with claims he desperately asked: ‘What do I need to do?’
As the chaos gathers pace today:
- Mr Johnson is gathering Cabinet this morning to sign off ditching most of the Plan B Covid restrictions, with an announcement expected this afternoon;
- A YouGov poll has put Labour 32 points ahead of the Tories in London, raising the prospect of many MPs losing their seats;
- There are claims that a ‘coughing’ Mr Johnson initially refused to isolate when he contracted Covid in March 2020, telling aides he was ‘strong as a bull’;
- An analysis by the Times of Conservative MPs’ Facebook pages, websites and emails suggests anger within the party is widespread, with 58 instances spotted of Mr Johnson being criticised since last week’s apology – with 16 of these coming from those elected just over two years ago;
- Mr Johnson is under huge pressure on another front as it emerged inflation spiked to 5.4 per cent in December, with families facing more pain as energy bills soar.
Boris Johnson, pictured during an interview yesterday, last night faced off a so-called ‘Pork Pie Plot’ to unseat the Prime Minister by newly-elected and Red Wall Tory MPs
Dehenna Davison with rescued puppy ‘Carter’ pictured next to Carrie Johnson with dog Dilyn and Rishi Sunak, canvasing in Bishop Auckland. She is thought to be one of the ringleaders
Some of the backbench Tory plotters include Alicia Kearns (left), who represents Melton Mowbray, and Gary Sambrook (right) from Birmingham Northfield
Another alleged conspirator, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford (left) became the seventh Tory to announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence to party shop steward Sir Graham Brady (right)
Defence minister James Heapppey was sent out to put the case for the PM this morning, but conceded he too had been ‘battered’ by voters
Senior Tory MPs William Wragg and Chris Green hit out at briefing against the Red Wall rebels – including one source who branded them ‘f****** nobodies’
Another alleged conspirator, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, became the seventh Tory to announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence to party shop steward Sir Graham Brady. The plotters are said to have discussed submitting their letters en masse today.
By yesterday, most had returned to Westminster with their ears ringing from complaints levelled at the PM by their angry constituents.
And although many Tory MPs owe their positions to the landslide 2019 general election victory, the figure they saw on loop on their TVs and mobile phone screens all afternoon looked under renewed pressure.
A 2019 Tory MP present at the meeting told the Telegraph: ‘Did everyone talk about being angry? Yes. Do people think this is potentially terminal? Yes. Are people thinking about what’s going to happen to our party in the coming months? Yes. Are there people looking to move? Of course they are. Do I think there’s a chance that a lot of people could put their letters in? Yes, I really do.’
Another told the Times that MPs expressed ‘exasperation’ over the parties, and that the fact one of them took place on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral had ‘taken them over the edge’.
There is talk that a group of MPs could hand them in en masse after Prime Minister’s Questions today in a dramatic gesture that could lead to a confidence vote being held within days.
Yet others are concerned that if a ballot is held before the full facts of the ‘partygate’ investigation by Sue Gray are known, those still waiting on her judgment could back Mr Johnson then leave him protected from further challenge for a year.
And some believe that even if the PM is exonerated, Dominic Cummings will continue to publish damaging allegations. ‘It’ll be death by a thousand blogs,’ said a source.
In response, ministers were outraged because the rebellion came as Mr Johnson was poised to end Covid Plan B measures and figures showed a ‘jobs miracle’ – with unemployment down to within a whisker of pre-pandemic levels.
A senior Tory source accused Miss Davison, who presents a TV show with former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, of ‘madly whipping up the Red Wallers’ against the PM.
The source also accused the plotters of hypocrisy, claiming that Miss Davison held regular drinking sessions for colleagues in her office.
A Cabinet minister accused new MPs of panicking over a slump in the polls, adding: ‘David Cameron and George Osborne were 13 points behind in the polls for three years. As Thatcher said if you aren’t behind in the polls mid term you aren’t working hard enough as a government.’
Another described the plot as ‘pretty sickening’, adding that many of the plotters were elected because of Mr Johnson – ‘most of them are a load of ******* nobodies’.
However, in a sign of the toxicity enveloping the party last night, a Tory sympathetic to the plotters hit back, saying: ‘This is belittling of many MPs that represent people who suffered throughout Covid. If No 10 are looking to repair relations with the new intake after Paterson this is not it.’
On a day of furious briefing and counter-briefing, a senior Tory source claimed that Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey had been involved in agitating against Mr Johnson.
Miss Coffey, who had a bust-up with the PM at Cabinet over the future of the BBC licence fee yesterday, denied involvement. No 10 also said the claim of disloyalty ‘did not represent the view of the Prime Minister’.
A Tory source noted that Miss Davison, Miss Kearns and Miss Coffey are all close allies of potential leadership candidate Liz Truss.
The Foreign Secretary was last night embarking on a trip to Australia and an ally said that any plotting was ‘not at her behest’, adding: ‘She is 100 per cent behind the PM.’
Fifty-four is the number required to trigger a vote, and while it is unclear how close the plotters are to reaching that figure, such discussions among so many MPs represents a worry for Mr Johnson
Chris Loder (left) who became MP for West Dorset in 2019 says many of his constituents are critical of Mr Johnson over ‘Partygate’. He also rebelled over Covid curbs last month. Meanwhile, a senior Tory source claimed that Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey (right) had been involved in agitating against Mr Johnson
The plot came as Tory whips struggled to contain anger over the so-called ‘Partygate’ controversy.
Mr Johnson yesterday broke cover after a self-imposed period of Covid isolation to repeat that he wanted to ‘humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made’ for allowing alleged parties to take place in No 10 during lockdown.
He insisted that he believed a ‘bring your own booze’ gathering in the garden at the height of lockdown had been a ‘work event’.
And he appeared emotional as he issued a public apology to the Queen over revelations that No 10 staff held two raucous parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, where Covid rules meant she had to sit alone.
Breathing heavily behind a mask, he repeatedly declined to say whether he would resign if it was proved he intentionally misled parliament.
His comments were contradicted in the latest blog by Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, whose priority now appears to be bringing down his former boss.
Mr Cummings wrote: ‘The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to parliament about parties.’ While Mr Johnson repeated his humble and sincere apologies, his defence that ‘no one warned him’ provoked anger.
His downbeat performance, which was designed to show humility, appeared to harden the mood against him among some Tory MPs.
One former Cabinet minister said: ‘If the PM really wants to fight and survive then there is still a route to doing that. But he will have to fight – and it looked like the fight had gone out of him.’
Last night, there were signs that the mutiny was spreading. Tory whips are braced for a flood of no confidence letters when Miss Gray reports, potentially as soon as tomorrow, on the party allegations. It is not clear how close the plotters are to reaching the 54 needed to trigger a vote.
One former minister said a leadership challenge was now ‘inevitable’ at some point – possibly within weeks.
There were also signs that elements of the Tory Right have so far been unimpressed by headline-grabbing initiatives. They complained that an announcement the Navy would help police migrant crossings in the Channel was little more than window-dressing.
It was a day where Mr Johnson was facing pressure from all angles, with criticism even coming from one sassy five-year-old schoolgirl.
Little Layla Somani, from Leicester, Leicestershire, had been watching the news while having breakfast last week before taking it upon herself to explain the pressing political situation to grandparents Kanti Somani, 76, and Kusun Somani, 73.
Her mother Devina Somani, 37, and father Nick Somani, 41, caught her hilariously detailed monologue on camera and shared it online, where social media users hailed her a ‘future PM’.
The five-year-old said Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ‘been naughty’ and needs to go to the ‘naughty centre’
In the funny clip, eloquent Layla explains: ‘Boris Johnson told everyone to stay at home, but in lockdown he just went down to a party, in the lockdown.
‘He’s been naughty, so he had to go to the naughty centre to tell everyone he’s sorry for going to a party in lockdown.
‘Now he can’t be prime minister anymore and he can’t go back to his prime minister home, so he’s not prime minister anymore.
‘So, someone else is being prime minister and there will be a good prime minister, but Boris Johnson is not a prime minister anymore, he’s a bad prime minister.
‘But, if he’s lucky, he can go back to his prime minister home and he can be a prime minister again. We’ll see tomorrow if he’s lucky.’
Now her mum Devina has explained that the staunch royalist has promised she’ll ‘definitely become prime minister’ – as the video has had more than 55,000 views and 1,645 reactions.
Devina said: ‘We couldn’t stop laughing. We couldn’t believe how much she’d picked up.
‘When she was explaining it we thought ‘oh my god’. We couldn’t believe she’d learnt all this stuff and that she was absorbing it so well.
‘It was a normal morning. She was having her breakfast and she’d been watching a bit of the news.
‘She went over to them and started explaining it. Nick said ‘hold on stop right there’ and started filming it.
‘She just started coming out with it. She said he had to leave his house and go to the naughty centre. It was even funnier.
‘It was amazing to capture the moment because some of these things she says you miss. She’s maybe a future politician.
‘She’s absorbed that from the news herself. She was able to tell what’s right and wrong.’
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