Politics

‘Like something out of The Thick of It’: Tories blast PM’s leadership ahead of Covid vote

Boris Johnson faces a Tory revolt over Covid restrictions, following a fortnight of scathing criticism from his own party.

boris johnson

At least 80 Tories are expected to vote against new Covid measures. Image: Pippa Fowles/Number 10 Downing St

Boris Johnson is facing a heated showdown in parliament as his own MPs prepare to rail against new Covid restrictions.

As many as 80 Conservative backbenchers are expected to vote against the new measures, forcing Johnson to rely on opposition parties’ backing to pass the legislation.

The Commons votes on face masks, vaccine passports, isolation and compulsory vaccinations come as the prime minister sees more questions than ever around his leadership – and this time he’s not the quizmaster. 

In the wake of the Christmas party scandal, an unprecedented Tory revolt has resulted in furious MPs publicly condemning Johnson’s decision-making. Some have called for his resignation after reports of as many as six social events held at Downing Street last Christmas, when the country was in lockdown and facing a dramatic increase in Covid-19 infection.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, stumbled when asked to name the PM’s attributes in the wake of the party scandal.

Instead, he stated: “Well, he is the prime minister of the United Kingdom.”

Asked again to describe Johnson’s positive qualities, Ross told BBC Scotland: “He’s the leader of the main party in the United Kingdom parliament and he is the prime minister who has been elected to lead the country.

“You’re asking me about what he’s doing as prime minister, and I’m saying he’s leading the country at the moment.”

Ross, who admitted he was “angry” as evidence surfaced of rule-breaking festivities at Number 10, warned: “That does not mean he or his officials are allowed to do whatever they want without any scrutiny. That scrutiny will come from all sides, including myself.”

Meanwhile Mark Harper, Conservative MP and chair of the Covid Recovery Group, said the events of the past few weeks “have seriously damaged the credibility of those at the very top.”

“Why should people listen to the prime minister’s instructions to follow the rules when people inside Number 10 Downing Street don’t do so?” he added.

Boris Johnson told the Commons he was “assured” there had been no party at Downing Street, while also insisting all rules had been followed if there had been one.

Tory MP Roger Gale warned the “game’s up” for Johnson if he had deliberately misled parliament, which would be “a hanging offence”.

Days later, photographic evidence of Johnson hosting a Christmas quiz and surrounded by staff inside Number 10 was published.

Gale told the BBC he felt “first of all incredulity, then hollow mirth, and then a feeling of total exasperation”.

“This is like something out of The Thick of It,” he later told Sky News.

Tory MP and ex-minister Tracey Crouch said she was “fuming”.

“My constituents have every right to be angry,” she added.

“Their memories of lost loved ones are traumatised knowing that they died alone, first and last Christmasses passed by, and many spent what is usually a special day by themselves.

“I am not even going to begin to justify or defend a party in Downing Street.”

Meanwhile Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative peer, called for all staff present at the festivities to resign.

“Every minister, parliamentarian and staffer at the Downing Street party must resign now,” she said. “No ifs, no buts.

“The rule of law is a fundamental value, the glue that holds us together as a nation. Once that is trashed by those in power the very essence of our democracy is at stake.”

Scotland Yard has repeatedly stated it will not investigate the parties for breaking lockdown laws. The Good Law Project threatened to bring legal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police if it could not justify its refusal to probe the events of last winter.

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“None of this is remotely defensible,” said Ruth Davidson, former Scottish Tory leader who now sits in the House of Lords. 

“Not having busy, boozy not-parties while others were sticking to the rules, unable to visit ill or dying loved ones.

“Nor flat-out denying things that are easily provable. Not taking the public for fools.”

“As a Tory, I was brought up to believe in playing with a straight bat. Believe me, colleagues are furious at this, too.”

The heat on Boris Johnson intensified when he introduced England’s “plan B” to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

“How are you going to prosecute people who don’t obey it given the four previous parties?” David Davis, former Conservative minister, told Robert Peston.

“The real issue is on the authority of the government to enforce a new lockdown because people look at this and say why should we? It’s us and them again.”

Anne Marie Morris, another Tory MP, said: “Clearly there were rules in place that most of us were diligently following – despite how difficult they were – and they decided to break them. It’s not on.”

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