'Impossible to say' if Boris Johnson will lead Tories into next election, Steve Baker says

Steve Baker would not confirm whether he was one of the numerous Tory MPs who have submitted a letter of no confidence in the PM's leadership. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson's leadership of the UK is hanging in the balance, according to a senior backbench Tory who said it is "impossible to say" whether he will lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

Steve Baker, former leader of the Brexit-supporting European Research Group, said his constituents were "absolutely furious" about the numerous allegations of lockdown-breaking surrounding the prime minister.

Asked if he expects Mr Johnson to remain in post at the next election, Mr Baker said: "In a situation as volatile as this its impossible to say."

He added: "Right now, listening to the public, who remember very well all the sacrifices they made, I think people may well be too angry to forgive."

Around 20 letters of no confidence in the PM's leadership being submitted by Tory MPs, but Mr Baker would not confirm whether he was one of them.

Six Tory MPs have publicly called on Mr Johnson to resign, including the leader of Scottish Conservatives, but loyal ministers believe he'll be able to hang on.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told ITV News he has "every confidence" that Mr Johnson will remain in his position.

But allegations of Covid-rule-breaking are piling up around the prime minister and his Number 10 staff, with an investigation currently looking into at least nine separate parties attended by members of the government.

The latest accusation, reported by the Mirror, is that he attended a leaving do before Christmas 2020 and gave a speech to mark the departure of his defence adviser Captain Steve Higham.

It follows revelations from last week that Mr Johnson's staff broke Covid rules to party in Number 10 the day before Prince Philip's funeral - which the Queen was forced to attend socially distanced from her family due to coronavirus restrictions.

Nadhim Zahawi says he believes Boris Johnson will remain prime minister:

Number 10 said sorry to Buckingham Palace for holding the event on April 16, 2021.

Days earlier Mr Johnson was forced to apologise personally in the Commons for attending a different party in the garden of Number 10 on May 20, 2020, at the height of the first lockdown.

The PM claimed he thought it was a work event.

These events, and a number of others, are being investigated by top civil servant Sue Gray.

Mr Zahawi said people should wait for that investigation to conclude before people condemn the prime minister.

He told ITV News: "He's human, he makes mistakes and when he makes a mistake he came and apologised to Parliament and I think it's only right that we wait for the investigation."

But, as ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said, Mr Johnson is the only person with the power to decide his own punishment and he could chose to ignore findings of the probe.

And its been reported that two plans are underway which will allow Mr Johnson to stay in his job; Operation Save Big Dog and Operation Big Dog - however Mr Zahawi has denied that either exist.

Operation Red Meat, according to several newspapers, is a bid to satisfy Tory MPs displeased with his behaviour by bringing in policies favourable to Conservatives.

Among those is speculation that the BBC licence fee will be scrapped and a plan to use the army to prevent migrants making illegal border crossings.

Operation Save Big Dog, as reported in newspapers, is a plan for Mr Johnson to overhaul his top team, with top officials such as Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds - who invited 100 staff to attend the May 20, 2020 drinks - being given the boot.

It would allow him to blame rule breaking on those underneath him and absolve himself.

Mr Zahawi said there is "no plans to sack people in Number 10 or elsewhere" but added that people will be "held to account" if the investigation finds laws have been broken.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson does not refer to himself as Big Dog, with the PM's spokesman telling reporter: "I've never heard that term used."

Asked whether the PM referred to himself by the nickname, the spokesman said: "Certainly not that I am aware of."

Mr Zahawi also said he does not recognise Operation Red Meat and "that's not how departments operate".

It is unclear whether any policies would satisfy angry backbenchers, with six now publicly calling for his resignation.

There needs to be 54 letters of no confidence in the prime minister before a vote on his leadership can be triggered.

But Mr Zahawi said "big calls" made by the prime minister, such as Brexit and the vaccine rollout, will mean he remains in post, because he got them "right".