ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explores the shifting mood in the Tory party as Conservative MPs react to Boris Johnson's historic apology over his Covid breach
A senior Conservative MP has called for Boris Johnson to resign from office over his partygate fine, saying he was no longer "worthy” of the position of being prime minister.
Mark Harper, a former Tory whip, tweeted a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives stating that he no longer has confidence in Boris Johnson to be PM.
A no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister is triggered if 1922 chair Sir Graham Brady has 54 letters from Tory MPs.
By February, around 20 letters are understood to have been submitted, but this number has reduced since some MPs have subsequently withdrawn their submissions.
Mr Harper, the MP for the Forest of Dean, had previously said he was waiting for the police to conclude their investigation before deciding if Mr Johnson should go.
He said on Tuesday: “I regret to say that we have a Prime Minister who broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow, hasn’t been straightforward about it and is now going to ask the decent men and women on these benches to defend what I think is indefensible. “I’m very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds."
How can Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence?
15% of the parliamentary party - 54 MPs under this Parliament - must support a vote of no confidence in order for one to be triggered - unless the PM calls one himself. MPs register their support for a no confidence vote by submitting letters to to the 1922 Committee, which is effectively the HR division of the Tory party which represents its backbenchers. Once the threshold is reached an announcement will be made by the committee chairman, Sir Graham Brady. He keeps the number of letters - and the senders - secret until he receives 54.
Mr Harper's comments came as Mr Johnson addressed MPs for the first time since paying his £50 fine for breaking his own coronavirus rules by attending a birthday celebration on June 19, 2020 - a party first reported by ITV News in January.
Despite offering a "wholehearted apology" to the House of Commons, the prime minister claimed "it did not occur" to him that the rules were being broken at his 56th birthday celebration.
“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse but purely because it explains my previous words in this House, that it did not occur to me then or subsequently that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules,” he said.
After initial shows of support from Tory MPs and ministers, dissenting voices are now emerging, although the war in Ukraine is still putting off many backbenchers from urging for a change in leader. Lord Wolfson quit as a justice minister last week, saying that he had come to the “inevitable conclusion that there was repeated rule-breaking, and breaches of the criminal law, in Downing Street”.
Why has the PM consistently said that he has never knowingly misled parliament? Robert Peston explains
Meanwhile, Conservative former cabinet minister Karen Bradley suggested that Mr Johnson should quit, while Commons Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said Vladimir Putin could exploit Mr Johnson’s position.
He indicated that Mr Johnson should trigger a confidence vote himself.
These interventions followed Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills and Tory MP Craig Whittaker calling for the Prime Minister to quit.
Opposition parties have accused Mr Johnson of lying to Parliament after he previously told them no rules had been broken.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Britons "don't believe a word the prime minister says", adding that he is a "man without shame".
“As the mealy-mouthed apology stumbles from one side of his mouth, more deflections and distortions come from the other," he added, “it’s what he does. It’s who he is. He knows he’s dishonest and incapable of changing”.
House Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Tuesday granted the opposition a vote on whether there should be an investigation by the Commons' privileges or standards committees into whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament.
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The vote - to take place on Thursday, while the PM is India - is not likely to succeed due to the huge Conservative majority in the Commons.
Despite the strength of feeling in the public and among opposition MPs about the prime minister breaking the law, the government has an 80 seat majority and is highly unlikely to lose.
But the vote will serve a purpose for the opposition as it will force Tory MPs who have previously remained quiet on partygate to reveal whether or not they support the prime minister.