Are Tory MPs powerless to stop Boris Johnson remaining PM until autumn?

Credit: PA

Lots of Conservative MPs are appalled at the idea of Boris Johnson continuing to live in Downing Street until the autumn.

In a letter to the 1922 Committee, former prime minister Sir John Major said it would be “unwise and maybe unsustainable” for Tories to allow Mr Johnson to stay in Number 10.

But it's difficult to see how the party could stop him.

I've been speaking to Tory MPs - some of whom want the PM out now and some who are more relaxed about it - and none are clear there is a mechanism at the disposal of the 1922 Committee to remove Mr Johnson before a new leader is elected. He has resigned as Conservative Party leader, but not prime minister.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has threatened to table of vote of no confidence in the House of Commons to oust Mr Johnson.

Tory MPs could vote with the opposition to try to force him out, but I have found very little appetite for that approach, and it risks a general election which the party does not want.

One lever the backbenches have is to refuse, en masse, to fill vacant ministerial posts left by more than 50 resignations this week. It would leave Mr Johnson struggling to form a functioning government.

That ship though looks to have sailed with the decision by the likes of Greg Clark and Robert Buckland to take up Cabinet posts. Others who resigned have shown an interest in returning to their posts.

What the 1922 Committee can do is determine the speed of the upcoming leadership contest.

The quicker the process, the quicker they can get Boris Johnson out of Number 10.

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A six-week timetable - starting with the MPs whittling down the candidates to two and ending with the membership picking the winner - would see a new PM elected by the start of September.

There is some talk among MPs to expedite it further, by placing pressure on the 'weaker' of the final two candidates to pull out and therefore sidestep the membership vote.

This happened in 2017, when Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the contest allowing Theresa May to become party leader and prime minister immediately.

Some Tories, however, will not like the idea of not giving the party membership a say.

They may not like it, but MPs may have to put up with Boris Johnson for a little longer.