Boris Johnson confidence vote

By Rob Picheta, Jack Guy, Amarachi Orie and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 12:33 AM ET, Tue June 7, 2022
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6:28 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

The Conservative MPs who could replace Johnson

DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images
DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

British politics is an infamously ruthless game — and while Boris Johnson’s confidence motion was only announced on Monday, the reality is that many of his peers have been jockeying for position for some time.

If Johnson loses Monday’s vote, it will fire the formal starting gun on a leadership contest to pick the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister.

Some of Johnson’s cabinet members would be expected to run. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, was Johnson’s presumed successor for several months after he won praise for overseeing Britain’s initial financial response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Sunak’s popularity has nosedived in recent weeks as Britain has suffered a cost of living crisis. Sunak has struggled to keep down spiraling inflation and has been criticized by opposition parties for what they call a slow and inadequate series of financial measures. 

That means Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, could now be in pole position. Truss is popular among Conservative members, who would pick the winner of a contest, and fronting the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened her public profile.

But Johnson’s downfall could simultaneously tarnish anyone in his cabinet, meaning Conservative voters could turn to a backbencher to take the mantle.

Jeremy Hunt, who lost the 2019 leadership vote to Johnson, has been mooted as a candidate and he announced he’d be voting against Johnson in an important intervention on Monday.

"Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change," Hunt said. Tellingly, Hunt’s statement focused mainly on the Conservatives’ chances of electoral success under Johnson, rather than his policies or the Partygate scandal — a decision that could be read as a pitch to the Tory MPs and members who would decide a leadership election.

Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative rising star and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is considered a potential candidate and would be seen by voters as a fresh face untainted by the chaos that befell recent Conservative governments.

Other frontrunners include Penny Mordaunt, Johnson’s trade minister. While most Cabinet members rushed to back their embattled leader on Monday, Mordaunt has not yet publicly made a comment, raising some eyebrows among Westminster observers. Instead, she’s merely tweeted that she’ll be attending a D-Day commemoration event in her constituency.

Cabinet members Ben Wallace, Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid have all backed Johnson on Monday but would be seen as possible candidates should he lose.

And remember, Monday’s vote is a secret ballot — so MPs could support Johnson to the media while still eying a move for his job.

6:01 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Jeremy Hunt, a potential leadership challenger, says he'll vote to oust Johnson

Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt appears on BBC's Sunday Morning in London on May 15.
Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt appears on BBC's Sunday Morning in London on May 15. (Jeff Overs/BBC/Reuters)

Jeremy Hunt, who lost the 2019 Conservative leadership election to Johnson, has said he will vote against the Prime Minister tonight.

"Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve," Hunt wrote on Twitter. "We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country."

"Anyone who believes our country is stronger, fairer & more prosperous when led by Conservatives should reflect that the consequence of not changing will be to hand the country to others who do not share those values.

"Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change," Hunt said.

His intervention is a significant one. Until now, most MPs who have expressed their opposition to Johnson have not been household names. But Hunt is a well-known politician who has served various Cabinet roles, and he's expected to run if there is a leadership contest.

His statement essentially represents a leadership challenge to Johnson, and gives wavering MPs a clear alternative to envisage when they vote on the Prime Minister's future.

5:38 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Why booze and cake could end Boris Johnson's tenure as Prime Minister

Boris Johnson was in a relatively healthy position in opinion polls late last year, after a speedy Covid-19 vaccine rollout boosted his government's reputation.

But then came the first revelation of a Christmas party in Downing Street a year prior, when Britain was living under severe virus restrictions.

That story, first reported in late November 2021, started a flood of damning allegations of parties, social gatherings, drinks and garden events that took place at the heart of Johnson's government during various stages of lockdown.

Johnson initially denied that any party took place, and insisted that rules were followed inside Downing Street.

But months later, the police said they would investigate several such gatherings. Johnson himself was fined for attending a birthday party, held in his honor, in which he was photographed raising a beer with staffers. In all, 126 fines were issued by police over parties inside government.

A damning report into what became known as the Partygate scandal was published late last month by senior civil servant Sue Gray. She criticized a culture of rule-breaking events, and wrote that "the senior leadership at the centre" of Johnson's administration "must bear responsibility" for a culture that allowed the parties to take place.

She added there is "no excuse for some of the behaviour" she investigated, which included "excessive alcohol consumption." Logs of email exchanges were also featured, including some where staff openly discussed hiding their partying from the media.

Speaking in Parliament moments after the report was published, Johnson said he was "humbled" and has "learned my lesson," adding: "I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch."

But he also repeated previous claims that parties only escalated after he left, and insisted he was "surprised and disappointed" that several drink-fueled events took place.

And he suggested that the cramped quarters of the government buildings and the "extremely long hours" of his staff responding to the Covid-19 crisis could explain why several parties and social events took place.

The scandal has shattered Johnson's reputation and led to outrage among the public. Millions of Britons were unable to socialize or visit sick relatives in hospital during Covid-19 lockdowns, a stark contrast from the actions revealed in Gray's report.

According to a snap poll from Savanta ComRes published after the report, two thirds of Britons (65%) said that Johnson should resign over the findings.

Johnson has faced criticism on other issues, including his handling of the cost of living crisis, but it is Partygate that has most directly led to Monday's vote on his political future.

5:14 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

History is not on Boris Johnson's side -- even if he survives Monday's vote

Boris Johnson is not the first sitting Prime Minister to face a confidence vote.

In fact, it's a rare issue over which he and his predecessor, Theresa May, could bond.

But May's confidence motion, along with several other historical polls on the leadership of Tory leaders, shows that even "winning" a vote is a dark omen for a Prime Minister.

May faced a leadership challenge when MPs grew frustrated over her inability to force a Brexit deal through a severely deadlocked parliament. She survived the vote with the support of 200 MPs, against 117 who opposed her.

That's a relatively healthy margin -- and if Johnson clings onto power on Monday, many observers will be comparing his score with that of May's.

But the vote essentially made public the deep dissatisfaction in May within her own party, and her reputation was severely damaged. She went on to resign several months later, after seeing her Brexit plan defeated in Parliament three times.

The last Conservative Prime Minister to face such a serious threat to their tenure was John Major, who in 1995 resigned as Conservative leader -- but not as PM -- so that he could compete in a party vote and resecure his position.

Major defeated his only rival handily, winning the support of two-thirds of his MPs. But he went on to lose in a landslide election to Labour leader Tony Blair, which put the Conservative Party into opposition for a generation.

And in 1990, a similar process took place that ended Margaret Thatcher's 11-year stretch as Prime Minister.

Thatcher earned the support of just over half of her lawmakers in the first round of voting, a result that all but cemented her fate. She withdrew before a second round and Major went on to become leader.

Conservative MPs will be keenly aware of that history as they file through Parliament to cast their votes on Monday night.

Johnson may well survive, given the significant leap from the 15% of MPs required to trigger a vote, to the 50% needed to oust him.

But even a narrow victory would mark a dark day in Johnson's premiership, and allow opposition parties to cast him as a lame duck leader.

5:37 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Conservative lawmaker tells Johnson it would be an "insult" to voters if he remains in office

Dozens of Conservative MPs have called on Johnson to step down or expressed anger at his leadership in recent weeks, prompting Monday's vote.

One more lawmaker went on the record in his opposition to the Prime Minister on Monday, just moments before the vote was announced.

Jesse Norman said Johnson’s response to Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-breaking parties in his government was “grotesque.”

But his letter, which he shared online, focused mostly on Johnson’s other policies — demonstrating that the opposition towards Johnson’s premiership runs far deeper than the Partygate scandal.

Norman said a breach of the Northern Ireland protocol, agreed with the EU in Brexit talks, would be “economically very damaging” and “foolhardy.” 

He added that the government’s new policy of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda is “ugly, likely to be counterproductive and of doubtful legality.” And he panned a separate plan to privatize Britain’s Channel 4 television network.

“Under you the Government seems to lack a sense of mission,” Norman wrote in a damning statement.

“For you to prolong this charade by remaining in office not only insults the electorate … it makes a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely.”

His conclusion mirrors that of many MPs, who have lost faith in Johnson to win the next general election. The Conservatives have been trailing the Labour Party in opinion polls for several months.

4:30 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Johnson's allies rush to his defense ahead of confidence vote

Members of Boris Johnson's cabinet have defended the Prime Minister on Monday, as they brace for a confidence vote that could remove his government.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor who for several months was mooted as a potential successor to Johnson, said on Twitter that "the PM has shown the strong leadership our country needs."

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab added that Johnson has "got the big calls right," while Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Johnson's community-based "Levelling Up" agenda, said the party needs to "move past this moment and unite behind Boris."

CNN has seen a copy of a factsheet being circulated among Conservative MPs, listing a number of talking points in defence of Johnson.

The memo reminds loyal lawmakers to emphasise that winning the vote would be a chance to "unite" and allow the government to "focus on getting on with the job."

5:57 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Labour leader Keir Starmer says ousting Johnson is "in the national interest"

British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arrives for the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral in London on June 3.
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer arrives for the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral in London on June 3. (Toby Melville/WPA/Pool/Getty Images)

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, has urged Conservative MPs to remove Boris Johnson during Monday's confidence vote.

"I think they’ve got to show some leadership and vote against the Prime Minister," Starmer said on LBC radio. "He’s lost the trust of the country, I think that’s pretty clear on all the evidence I’ve seen."

Starmer added that some in his party would prefer to keep Johnson in place, given how "damaged" the Prime Minister is in the eyes of the public.

But removing him would be in the "national interest," Starmer added.

"The public have made their mind up about this man. They don’t think he’s telling the truth, about not just Partygate, but many, many things," Starmer said.

And he predicted that even if Johnson survived Monday's vote, it would still represent "the beginning of the end" for his premiership.

4:05 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

How Monday's vote will work

The confidence vote in Boris Johnson is taking place because at least 54 Conservative MPs have submitted letters to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, saying they've lost confidence in their leader.

That figure represents 15% of Conservative MPs, the threshold at which a vote is triggered.

Conservative MPs will now cast votes between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time on whether they want Johnson to continue in his role or not.

Johnson has faced criticism on his leadership for months, especially over his role in the "Partygate" scandal that saw a litany of revelations about lockdown-breaking gatherings inside Downing Street while the rest of Britain was banned from socializing.

Crucially, this is a secret ballot -- which means that MPs who have stayed publicly loyal to Johnson could still vote to oust him (as long as they're willing to lie about it afterwards.)

If more than half of Tory MPs vote against Johnson, he'll have to step down as Conservative Party leader. He could remain as Prime Minister while a replacement is found in a Tory leadership vote, but once that person is chosen, they'll take over as Britain's leader.

3:53 a.m. ET, June 6, 2022

Downing Street says Johnson "welcomes" chance to make his case to MPs

From CNN's Luke McGee in London

A Downing Street spokesperson has said Boris Johnson "welcomes" Monday's confidence vote in his leadership.

“Tonight is a chance to end months of speculation and allow the government to draw a line and move on, delivering on the people’s priorities," the spokesperson said.

"The PM welcomes the opportunity to make his case to MPs and will remind them that when they’re united and focused on the issues that matter to voters there is no more formidable political force.”

Dozens of MPs have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with Johnson's recent performance. If Johnson fails in making his pitch on Monday, he'll have to step down.