Pressure mounts on Johnson amid rumour of no-confidence vote

Ex-Brexit secretary invokes remark that led to Chamberlain exit – ‘In the name of God, go’

The media in attendance as British prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend prime minister’s questions at the Houses of Parliament. Photograph: PA

British prime minister Boris Johnson received a double blow on Wednesday when former Brexit secretary David Davis called for his resignation and a Conservative MP crossed the floor of the House of Commons to defect to Labour. Amid rumours of more MPs submitting letters calling for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, his spokeswoman said Mr Johnson would fight to survive any such move.

In a moment of high drama during prime minister’s questions, Mr Davis invoked the 1940 Norway debate that led to Neville Chamberlain’s resignation.

"Like many on the government benches, I have spent weeks and months defending the prime minister against often angry constituents. I have reminded them of his success in delivering Brexit and the vaccines, and many other things. But I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday the prime minister did the opposite of that, so I will remind him of a quotation that will be altogether too familiar to him. Leo Amery said to Neville Chamberlain: 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing . . . In the name of God, go'," he said.

A veteran Eurosceptic, Mr Davis resigned from Theresa May's cabinet alongside Mr Johnson in protest against her Chequers plan that would have kept Britain aligned with some EU regulations after Brexit. His intervention came minutes after Christian Wakeford, who won the seat of Bury South for the Conservatives in 2019 with a majority of 402 votes, left the party to join Labour.


“I can no longer support a government that has shown itself consistently out of touch with the hard-working people of Bury South and the country as a whole,” he said in a letter to his local constituency association, as reported by the Bury Times.

“Under Keir Starmer, the Labour Party is back firmly in the centre of British politics, in touch with working people, and ready to provide an alternative government that this country can be proud of, and not embarrassed by. My decision is about much more than the leadership of Boris Johnson and the disgraceful way he has conducted himself in recent weeks. However, I don’t believe all politicians are the same and I do believe in the power of politics to be a force for good. So does Keir Starmer.”

Sir Keir welcomed Mr Wakeford's defection, saying the Bury South MP had concluded "like so many people up and down the country" that the Conservatives were incapable of offering the leadership Britain deserved and that Labour was ready to offer an alternative government.

Labour has been ahead of the Conservatives by double digits in opinion polls for a number of weeks and a poll for Channel 4 News on Wednesday suggested that Red Wall voters were abandoning the governing party. The poll found that in 45 seats in the north of England and the midlands which the Conservatives won from Labour in 2019, Labour now lead by an average of 11 points and would regain all but three.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times