Politics

Tory MPs who told Boris Johnson to resign in January are now backing him, despite lockdown fines

At least 11 Conservative MPs publicly submitted letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee calling for the prime minister to resign over the Partygate scandal. But what are they saying now?

Sir Roger Gale, Andrew Bridgen, and Douglas Ross have all withdrawn their calls for the prime minister to resign. Image: UK Parliament

There was a time in mid-January when Boris Johnson would have been fearing for his political career. Letters of no confidence were flooding in to the 1922 Committee of back-bench Conservative MPs and many commentators wondered if reports of a string of parties across Whitehall while the country was in lockdown would mean the end.

Downing Street has now confirmed the prime minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak — who was not so long ago tipped as the next PM — have been fined for attending the parties and breaking the law. They are the first prime minister and chancellor pairing to be charged with committing a crime while in office.

Johnson and Sunak had both rejected accusations levied by MPs that they broke their own laws, telling the Commons on different occasions that there were no parties, that they had no knowledge of them, that guidelines were followed or that they were work events.

But those most vocal in calling for Johnson’s head just months ago have changed their tune.

Dozens of MPs and commentators are outraged and are calling on the prime minister to resign. But what happened to the Tory rebels? And why have they changed their tune? Here’s what they’re saying now.

Douglas Ross

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross wrote to the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs calling for a leadership contest after saying Mr Johnson’s position was untenable.

On March 10 he withdrew his calls for the prime minister to resign, saying that the issue should be “put on pause while there is war in Europe“.

In light of the fine issued by the Met Police, Ross has doubled down on his U-turn saying that: “The public are rightly furious at what happened in Downing Street during the pandemic. I understand why they are angry and share their fury. The behaviour was unacceptable. The Prime Minister now needs to respond to these fines being issued.

“However, as I’ve made very clear, in the middle of war in Europe, when Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes and the UK is Ukraine’s biggest ally, as President Zelensky said at the weekend, it wouldn’t be right to remove the Prime Minister at this time.

“It would destabilise the UK Government when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians.”

Sir Roger Gale

The 78-year-old MP for North Thanet was one of Johnson’s strongest critics from within his own party back in January, saying “I believe that we need a change of leader because I don’t think that Mr. Johnson has the qualities that we need in a Conservative Prime Minister,” Gale said on the Mail+ The Andrew Pierce Show. 

“This is the guy who at the despatch box on December the eighth said, ‘I am convinced that there have been no parties in Downing Street,’ when actually he attended one of them. He misled the house. And that, in politics, is a very serious offence.”

Despite the fines issued by the Met police confirming Gale’s statement that Johnson misled the house, Gale has said that it is not the time to “unseat” the prime minister, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope has reported. 

“There will come a time the PM will have to face this, but now is not the moment,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the PM “will lead us into the next election.”

Andrew Bridgen

Johnson ally Andrew Bridgen, became the fifth politician from Johnson’s own party to submit a letter of no confidence over Partygate in January. 

 Now Bridgen has told The Times’s Lucy Fisher that he is “deeply disappointed” in the prime minister and chancellor for breaking Covid rules. 

He warned that Johnson’s conduct “will be seen by many of the electorate as a major breach of trust” that is likely to hit the Conservatives at local elections. He did not use the conversation to call for the prime minister’s resignation, rather saying he would listen to his local association. 

The Conservative MP for North West Leicester withdrew his letter of no confidence last month due to war in Ukraine.

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