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When will Tory MPs turn on Boris Johnson?

There are many in the party who still want their vengeance on the Prime Minister.

By Harry Lambert

In January, as the pre-war Tory rebellion against Boris Johnson gathered pace, Steve Baker – one of the key movers in Theresa May’s downfall – told Nick Robinson that it looked “like checkmate” for Johnson. Baker did not give or withdraw his confidence that day, and ever since Baker’s position on the Prime Minister he helped into power has been a source of fascination. Yesterday (19 April), after Boris Johnson made an apology to the House, Baker stood repeatedly in an attempt to catch the speaker’s eye: he had something to say.

Baker’s intervention underwhelmed many in the chamber. “My right honourable friend [Johnson] could not have made a more humble apology,” Baker said, to groans from the opposition benches. He appeared to be backing the Prime Minister, despite reservations (“What assurance can he give us that nothing of this kind will ever happen again?” he asked Johnson). 

But I would not overestimate the support Baker or other MPs offered yesterday. There are many in the party who, as one MP put it to me, want their vengeance on Johnson. “I have been dragged through the mud and I’m sick of it,” says one. 

Why did MPs like Baker not move against Johnson yesterday? One MP did: Mark Harper, the party’s chief whip under Cameron but a back-bench rebel during Covid. “Mark’s kept the fire alive,” said a rebel MP, who confirmed they haven’t withdrawn their letter of no confidence. But other discontented MPs were less charitable. “All Mark has done is pissed a lot of people off. He wants a seat in the cabinet and he’s ready to run a rival campaign.”

MPs have decided they don’t want to do anything before the local elections, a prominent MP says, so Harper’s intervention was perhaps – like the many before it, from David Davis’s castigation of Johnson after PMQs in January, or Tobias Ellwood’s almost incidental withdrawal of confidence during a Sky News interview shortly thereafter – ill-timed. The tendency of Tory MPs to shoot their bolt individually, rather than move against Johnson as one, is as alive and ineffective as ever.

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