Boris Johnson has rejected calls from his cabinet to resign, promising to fight on and claiming he should remain in power due to the mandate given to him by 14 million voters in the 2019 general election.
He now faces the prospect of a no confidence vote in his leadership as early as next week, which senior Conservative party figures believe he is unlikely to survive.
Mr Johnson on Wednesday night sacked Michael Gove as levelling up secretary, hours after he told the prime minister privately that he should resign. Other cabinet ministers, including home secretary Priti Patel and transport secretary Grant Shapps, urged the prime minister to go on Wednesday evening but he told them he was determined to remain in office.
“The prime minister is in buoyant mood and will fight on. He has a 14 million mandate and so much to do for the country,” Mr Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary James Duddridge told Sky News.
Twenty-nine MPs resigned from Mr Johnson’s government on Wednesday and more than 100 said publicly that he should leave office. The latest move against the prime minister was triggered by his handling of a scandal surrounding former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher who resigned last week following claims that he groped two men.
The executive committee of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs decided against changing the rules to allow for a second vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership before 12 months has elapsed since last month’s vote.
But they said a new executive would be elected next Monday and a majority of those chosen are expected to favour a rule change. Graham Brady, 1922 Committee chairman, joined cabinet ministers who met Mr Johnson in Downing Street and is reported to have told the prime minister that there could be another confidence vote soon and that he might lose it.
Citing his 2019 general election victory, Mr Johnson told a group of Commons committee chairs on Wednesday that it would wrong for him to step down while Britain faced great challenges.
“I look at the issues this country faces. I look at the pressures that people are under and the need for the government to focus on their priorities,” he said. “I look at the biggest war in Europe for 80 years and I can’t for the life of me see how it is responsible just to walk away from that. Particularly not when you have a mandate of the kind that we won two, three years ago.”
Sajid Javid, who resigned as health secretary on Tuesday evening, told the House of Commons that he had given the prime minister the benefit of the doubt time and again. But after the repeated falsehoods about parties in Downing Street during lockdown, Mr Johnson’s shifting narrative about what he knew about Mr Pincher’s behaviour was the final straw.
“At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that that point is now,” he said. “I do fear that the reset button can work only so many times. There are only so many times that we can turn that machine on and off before we realise that something is fundamentally wrong.”