Boris Johnson is facing a perilous week as Conservative MPs return to Westminster after being rejected by demands from party members and local voters that they force the prime minister out of office.
Johnson outlined a plan to save his job – including phasing out the Downing Street operation entirely – as he tried to blame his backroom staff for the “culture” of drinking and Vivid lock party.
But Tory MPs on Monday will be in a state of panic, with some suggesting as many as 20-30 colleagues have sent letters demanding a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
“Those are not just ordinary suspects,” said a former Cabinet minister. A senior Tory MP said he had received nearly 500 emails in the past few days, almost all of them calling for Johnson to step down. “It was pretty bad,” he said.
Although Johnson will face a vote of no confidence if 53 Tory MPs ask for a vote of confidence, most Tories believe the prime minister is not doomed yet. A former minister said: “There is a window of survival for him, but it is closing rapidly.
The prime minister’s team still believes he can get back on his feet with a series of announcements, allowing him to advance to a much-challenged round of local elections in May.
Although Downing Street insists they do not “recognize the terms”, Johnson’s survival plan is now jokingly depicted in Whitehall as Operation Big Dog Rescue and his new set of policies called Red Meat Campaign.
It is expected that Downing Street officials and advisers will be chased – possibly this week – over a report on Whitehall parties by Sue Grey, a senior civil servant.
Gray’s report is expected to be heavily criticized by Downing Street staff and will detail Covid’s drinking culture and rule-breaking. But she is not expected to directly blame Johnson for this.
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, said he did not expect Johnson to face further investigation by Lord Geidt, the adviser on ministerial standards, who said the prime minister would be held accountable to parliament.
He told Sky News on Sunday: “I don’t reduce for a second that the kind of events we’ve seen are completely wrong. Johnson was determined to “address the kind of culture in Downing Street that has allowed the same thing to happen”.
Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s chief personal secretary, Dan Rosenfield, chief of staff, and several communications staff are among those who could be removed from Downing Street.
Most Tory MPs do not believe that the Gray report itself would condemn Johnson, although many believe the Number 10 “culture” – with multi-party reports during Covid lockdown – coming from the top.
One former minister said: “If you have a boss who plays fast, loosens the rules and ignores it, it is not uncommon for the staff working under him to think they can do it too. so”.
Keir Starmer, Labor leader, believes Johnson is trying to hide behind Grey’s report. On Sunday, he announced the prime minister had “degraded to the post of prime minister” in violation of the law and should resign.
“This is not the civil service culture, it’s the No 10 culture under this prime minister,” said Dave Penman, head of the FDA’s civil service association.
While Johnson will be applauded by many Tory MPs for shaking up what they see as a misguided Number 10 operation, the removal of existing advisers and officials could cause more trouble.
“Who will work for him now?” asked a senior advisor. “The mood at Number 10 was really bad. There is a rift between civil servants and politicians. Everyone is looking for a way out.”
The danger for Johnson in seeking scapegoats is that he widens his circle of people willing to reveal damaging stories against him. A former cabinet minister said: “The risk is there is one death from a thousand cuts.
On Sunday, Downing Street denied claims that Johnson was warned in advance that Reynolds was planning to throw a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street gardens on May 20, 2020. , which is clearly in violation of the UK’s no-door rules.
Johnson hopes he can brush off criticism in Gray’s report and try to shift the policy agenda to reassure Conservative critics that he remains in control.
The key announcement is expected to be the removal of Covid-19 restrictions when they legally expire on January 26, which Johnson will roll out to whitewash his campaign to boost the mass vaccine. goverment.
Also in the process is Michael Gove’s long-awaited “upgrade” white paper, Measures to Lower Home Energy Bills, a Freeze the BBC’s royalties and more military involvement in controlling the flow of migrants across the English Channel in small boats.
Most Tory MPs expect Johnson to survive to implement his “Red Meat” policies over the next few weeks, but The mood in Westminster is unstable and could change rapidly if more damaging disclosures emerge.
Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet and one of half a dozen Tories openly calling for Johnson to step down, told the FT: “I have received a number of distressing emails from voters over the past few days. related to parties.
“All of these are open old wounds for everyone, especially those who have lost loved ones and made great sacrifices in locking doors. “
Some Tory MPs believe Johnson is not responsible for what happened, despite apologizing to the nation last Wednesday.
A Tory MP said Johnson, in private meetings, “showed absolutely no remorse, almost showing that he did nothing wrong”. The MP added: “We were all shocked – what does that say about his character?”