Desperate Boris could ‘go nuclear’ and drag Queen into his shameless battle to remain as PM by asking her for snap General Election – but critics brand move ‘deluded madness’ that would spark constitutional crisis if Monarch says NO
- The Prime Minister rejected calls to quit on Wednesday and dramatically sacked Cabinet rival Michael Gove
- Mr Johnson met ministers in No 10 where he was told he had lost the confidence of the Tory party
- PM’s allies raised the prospect of ‘nuclear option’ by asking Queen to dissolve parliament and trigger election
- Mr Johnson does technically have the power to do this – but the monarch could also refuse the request
- Critics have branded the idea ‘deluded madness’ which could spark a constitutional crisis
The Prime Minister rejected calls to step down on Wednesday and dramatically sacked Cabinet rival Michael Gove, but was later hit with the departure of a third Cabinet minister – Welsh Secretary Simon Hart – and further demands to go from the Attorney General.
Mr Johnson met ministers in No 10 where he was told he had lost the confidence of the Tory party and should not continue in office – but refused to listen.
The dramatic sacking of Mr Gove, a long-standing ally who has served in Cabinet roles in successive governments since 2010, came after a whirlwind two days in Westminster that has seen Mr Johnson’s core support hemorrhage.
Mr Johnson’s allies have now raised the prospect of taking the ‘nuclear option’ and asking the Queen to dissolve parliament to trigger an election – which he does technically have the power to do – but the monarch could also refuse the request.
Critics have branded the idea ‘deluded madness’ which would spark a constitutional crisis if the Queen turned down his request, and senior officials and MPs have reportedly warned him against the ‘Trumpian’ strategy.
The Queen, 96, was yesterday pictured being driven from Wood Farm near Sandringham, Norfolk, to her helicopter which flew her back to Windsor Castle.
She typically holds a weekly meeting with the Prime Minister on Wednesdays, which have frequently taken place over the phone since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, but it is not clear whether it occurred yesterday amid the pandemonium surrounding Mr Johnson’s leadership.
Deputy PM Dominic Raab is thought to have told the Prime Minister that he risked putting the monarch in an intolerable position if he tried to call a snap election, The Sun reports.
Concern among MPs comes following the approval of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act which was brought into law this year, repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and allowing for the body to be dissolved by the Queen ‘on the request of the prime minister’.
Conservative MPs worry that the Prime Minister could try to use it to save his premiership.
A government source told The Times: ‘It is something that was talked about but it is completely deluded madness.’
In two days of drama, more than 40 resignations were sent to the Prime Minister since Sajid Javid sparked a tidal wave of revolt late on Tuesday evening in a move that now threatens to bring the Government to its knees.
The PM’s relationship with Mr Gove has long been troubled, with Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2016 derailed when his rival withdrew support and decided to run himself.
Mr Johnson phoned the Levelling Up Secretary yesterday evening to tell him he was being removed from his Cabinet job, accusing him of ‘treachery’.
But it was not only Mr Gove who sought to persuade Mr Johnson that his time in No 10 should end.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Mr Hart were among the Cabinet ministers telling Mr Johnson to stand down.
Attorney General and leadership hopeful Suella Braverman later joined the calls for the Prime Minister to quit as she launched a bid to replace him.
Boris Johnson’s allies have now raised the prospect of taking the ‘nuclear option’ and asking the Queen to dissolve parliament to trigger an election – which he does technically have the power to do – but the monarch could also refuse the request
The Prime Minister rejected calls to quit on Wednesday and dramatically sacked Cabinet rival Michael Gove, but was later hit with the departure of a third Cabinet minister – Welsh Secretary Simon Hart – and further demands to go from the Attorney General
Concern among MPs comes following the approval of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act which was brought into law this year, repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and allowing for the body to be dissolved by the Queen, pictured Wednesday, ‘on the request of the prime minister’
Michael Gove (left) – who notoriously stabbed Boris Johnson (right) in the back to end his leadership hopes in 2016 – has tonight been sacked from his cabinet position as embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched his own counterattack in a desperate bid to save his political career
Boris Johnson arriving back in Downing Street after his appearance at the Liaison Committee on Wednesday
Powerful 1922 committee chair Graham Brady was seen going into the Cabinet Office on Wednesday night – another access point to Downing Street
Larry the cat (left) beside the famous black door of Downing Street on Wednesday, and (right centre) Mr Johnson’s communications director Guto Hari returning to the building
It is understood that senior Conservatives have been told by the Cabinet Office that the head of the civil service, Simon Case, would warn against the PM asking for a dissolution on the grounds that it would drag the Queen into politics.
One senior MP said that the civil service would advise against putting the Queen in a ‘difficult position’, and his private secretary or cabinet secretary would tell him not to seek a dissolution because while the monarch could refuse it would be seen as constitutionally ‘inappropriate’ to put her in a position where she has to make a ‘controversial decision’.
Under the ‘Lascelles principles’, the monarch can turn down a request for a dissolution on three conditions, which are:
- The existing parliament is ‘vital, viable and capable of doing its job’;
- An election would be ‘detrimental to the national economy’;
- and if the monarch can ‘rely on finding another prime minister who could govern for a reasonable period with a working majority’
Senior Tory MPs think all conditions are met and, one Johnson supporter predicted the Queen would refuse to allow the dissolution of parliament by ‘finding a way of being busy until we’ve sorted this mess out ourselves’.
Samantha the Panther lined up to restore order
Former royal aide Samantha Cohen – known as ‘Samantha the Panther’ is now being lined up to restore order to the Downing Street operation, and was appointed Boris Johnson’s interim Chief of Staff after Steve Barclay was moved to become Health Secretary.
Cohen, who worked as Her Majesty’s assistant private secretary for eight years, was in February brought in to control access to the Prime Minister in a role which has not been filled since David Cameron‘s premiership.
The 50-year-old, nicknamed ‘Samantha the Panther’ due to her no-nonsense, professional approach, also acted as the Duchess of Sussex‘s private secretary for 18 months to help prepare Meghan for royal life.
Mrs Cohen, who left the Palace in 2019 after 18 years there, took over the management of the Prime Minister’s diary as the director of government relations.
Mr Johnson is believed to have successfully poached her for the role.
Mrs Cohen was a journalist and civil servant in her native Australia before landing her first job in the Palace.
Behind the famous black door of No10, the PM had earlier struggled with backbench chief Sir Graham Brady and senior figures including chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris – who warned him that the ‘game is up’.
But an unapologetic PM shocked Sir Graham and his ministers by telling them he is going nowhere, effectively daring them to call another confidence vote and saying he will focus on the ‘hugely important issues facing the country’. There are claims he has told friends ‘if you are going to die, go down fighting’.
The PM appointed his chief of staff Steve Barclay to replace Mr Javid as Health Secretary, and universities minister Michelle Donelan was promoted to Cabinet to replace Nadhim Zahawi.
Zahawi is believed to have agreed to launch a new economic plan alongside Boris Johnson today, but it is not known if this will go ahead amid the crisis surrounding Mr Johnson’s premiership.
Former royal aide Samantha Cohen – known as ‘Samantha the Panther’ is now being lined up to restore order to the Downing Street operation, and was appointed Boris Johnson’s interim Chief of Staff after Steve Barclay was moved to become Health Secretary.
Mr Johnson phoned Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove yesterday evening to tell him he was being removed from his Cabinet job, accusing him of ‘treachery’.
The sacking came after the minister went alone to see Mr Johnson in his Downing Street study shortly before 10.30am yesterday and tried to persuade him to stand down.
Mr Gove warned the PM his position was ‘no longer sustainable’, telling him: ‘The party will move to get rid of you’.
‘It is better to go on your own terms,’ he urged him.
Despite his pleading, at the end of the amicable five-minute conversation, Mr Johnson told Mr Gove: ‘Thank you, but I am going to fight on.’
The pair then walked down the corridor to the Cabinet Room, where the Levelling Up Secretary helped Mr Johnson to prepare for Prime Minister’s Questions.
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) are among the group who confronted the PM
Asked if he would quit as he arrived for a grilling by the Liaison Committee Wednesday afternoon, Mr Johnson said: ‘No, no, no.’
Sajid Javid yesterday delivered a vicious parting shot at Boris Johnson saying the ‘team is only as good as the team captain’
But the minister was noticeably absent from the frontbench as the PM faced MPs.
At 2.27pm, the news that Mr Gove had told Mr Johnson to go was broken on The Mail+. But the Levelling Up Secretary’s allies insisted he was not quitting and was not planning to lead a wider delegation of ministers to Downing Street to call for the PM to stand down.
WHO HAS QUIT BORIS’S GOVERNMENT SO FAR?
- Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
- Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Andrew Murrison, trade envoy to Morocco
- Bim Afolami, Conservative Party vice-chairman
- Saqib Bhatti, parliamentary private secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care
- Jonathan Gullis, parliamentary private secretary at the Northern Ireland Office
- Nicola Richards, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Transport
- Virginia Crosbie, parliamentary private secretary at the Welsh Office
- Theo Clarke, trade envoy to Kenya
- Alex Chalk, Solicitor General
- Laura Trott, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Transport
- Will Quince, parliamentary under-secretary of state for children and families at the Department for Education
- Robin Walker, minister of state for school standards at the Department for Education
- Felicity Buchan, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- John Glen, minister of state at the Treasury
- Victoria Atkins, minister of state for prisons and probation at the Ministry of Justice
- Jo Churchill, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
- Stuart Andrew, minister of state for housing at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
- Selaine Saxby, parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury
- Claire Coutinho, parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury
- David Johnston, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Education
- Kemi Badenoch, minister of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
- Julia Lopez, minister of state at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
- Lee Rowley, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
- Neil O’Brien, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
- Alex Burghart, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Education
- Mims Davies, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Work & Pensions
- Duncan Baker, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
- Craig Williams, parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury
- Mark Logan, parliamentary private secretary at the Northern Ireland Office
- Rachel Maclean, parliamentary under-secretary of state for safeguarding at the Home Office
- Mike Freer, parliamentary under-secretary of state for exports at the Department for International Trade
- Mark Fletcher, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
- Sara Britcliffe, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Education
- Ruth Edwards, parliamentary private secretary at the Scottish Office
- Peter Gibson, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for International Trade
- David Duiguid, trade envoy for Angola and Zambia
- James Sunderland, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
- James Young, Red Wall MP and PPS in the Department of Levelling Up
- David Mundell, UK Trade Envoy to New Zealand
- James Daly, parliamentary private secretary for the Department for Work and Pensions
- Danny Kruger, PPS at Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
- Simon Hart, Welsh Secretary
- Ed Argar, health minister
- James Davies, PPS at Department of Health
- Gareth Davies, PPS to Department of Health
An hour later the Prime Minister was questioned about his cabinet colleague’s warning to him as he appeared before the Commons liaison committee.
Mr Johnson did not dispute that Mr Gove had told him he should resign. Asked if the story was true, he replied: ‘I am here to talk about what the Government is doing. I am not going to give a running commentary on political events.’
At around 9pm, Mr Johnson rang Mr Gove to sack him. Neither Mr Gove nor his advisers were the source of The Mail+ story, but the PM said he believed the minister was behind the leak.
A No 10 source last night accused him of being a ‘snake’, adding: ‘You cannot brief the Press that you’re calling on the PM to go and expect to stay in Cabinet.
‘It’s not the first time he’s been treacherous, appalling and disloyal. This is something he [Mr Johnson] should have done years ago. We need team players who share the PM’s vision for Britain.’
Danny Kruger, who had been a ministerial aide to Mr Gove at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) last night said he was quitting his post in response to the sacking. ‘Very sorry indeed to hear Michael Gove has been fired by the PM,’ he tweeted. ‘As I told No 10 earlier today it should be the PM leaving office. I am resigning as PPS [Parliamentary Private Secretary] at DLUHC.’
Three ministers at the department – Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien and Stuart Andrew – had earlier announced they were quitting. Duncan Baker, another PPS, also resigned.
Tory former minister Tim Loughton said last night: ‘Michael Gove has taken the PM the traditional whisky and revolver. The PM has downed the whisky and turned the revolver on Gove.’
Mr Gove torpedoed Mr Johnson’s Tory leadership bid in 2016 following the Brexit referendum, when he dramatically withdrew support for his campaign at the last minute and then ran himself.
Ultimately it ended both men’s hopes and left the field clear for Theresa May to reach No 10.
In the 2019 Conservative leadership race, Mr Gove finished third place amid claims votes were switched from Mr Johnson to ensure Jeremy Hunt made the final two instead of him.
A Johnson ally claimed at the time: ‘He stabbed us in the back. We stabbed him in the front.’
But Mr Johnson made Mr Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his first Cabinet in July 2019 before moving him to become the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Mr Gove has been in and out of Cabinet positions. David Cameron removed Mr Gove from his post as education secretary in 2014 and demoted him to the role of chief whip. When Theresa May became prime minister in 2016, she sacked Mr Gove as justice secretary, before bringing him back as environment secretary a year later.
There was yesterday ‘pretty strong view’ across the 1922 Committee that Boris Johnson should go, a Conservative MP has said.
Speaking to the PA news agency, David Simmonds, who represents the Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner constituency, said the Prime Minister should go as the ‘message has been very clear from colleagues’.
On the 1922 Committee meeting, Mr Simmonds said: ‘There were a couple of people who would agree with that (that he should not go). Well, there was one person I can think of, but other than that, no, I think it was a pretty strong view across the piece.’
Mr Simmonds said there are quite a few ‘good candidates’ that could replace Mr Johnson as leader, adding: ‘I’m not canvassing for anybody. But I think we have got a fair few good people. I think Rishi Sunak has a good economic vision for the country.
‘I was a strong Remainer. But I think as somebody who believes in Brexit, he has actually got a plan. So I like that.’
Energy minister Greg Hands has defended his decision to remain in the Government amid a slew of resignations and mounting pressure for Boris Johnson to resign as Prime Minister.
Mr Hands told the PA news agency: ‘Well I think the majority of the Government has not resigned, the majority of Government is carrying on and we will have to see what happens at the top, yeah.’
Asked how in good conscience he can continue to serve in an administration beset by scandal, he added: ‘Because I have got a job to do, to deliver on energy and climate change and that’s exactly what I am going to be carrying on doing.’
On whether his constituents support this decision, he added: ‘Well, I think my constituents, they vote for me as their member of Parliament, I hope that they would continue to do so.’
And Attorney General Suella Braverman says she will continue in her role despite calling for the Prime Minister to quit.
The Cabinet minister, who has previously been a staunch supporter of Boris Johnson, told Peston on ITV that he had handled matters ‘appallingly’ in recent days.
She said: ‘The balance has tipped now in favour of saying that the Prime Minister – it pains me to say it – but it’s time to go.’
She said she will put her name into the ring if there is a leadership contest.
Tory MPs were seen slumping in their seats in the House of Commons on Wednesday as the ex-Health Secretary delivered a devastating blow to Mr Johnson’s premiership less than 24 hours after his bombshell double-resignation with Rishi Sunak
Flanked by a stony-faced Dominic Raab and new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Mr Johnson fended off a series of attacks from Keir Starmer saying Europe was enduring the ‘biggest war in 80 years’ and he was getting on with the job
She told Peston: ‘My first duty is to the country, Robert, and as attorney I’m the senior law officer.
‘And we’re in a crisis and I have statutory legal and constitutional duties…
Could Theresa May be drafted in as caretaker Prime Minister?
A well-placed source said the former PM was ‘uniquely placed’ to step in if Mr Johnson tries to order a snap election or quits straight after being ousted in a break with convention.
The source said Mrs May’s position as a sitting MP with experience as prime minister left her better qualified than any member of the current Cabinet, most of whom are expected to be involved in the contest to succeed the PM.
‘She knows the ropes and the security stuff, she’s a party woman through and through, she’s definitely not interested in standing for it herself and would be credible,’ the source added.
‘She is uniquely placed.’
A Tory MP said last night that this would have an ‘element of epic schadenfreude to it, given he knifed her in the first place’.
Allies of the PM have discussed trying to wrong-foot his enemies by calling an immediate election before they can oust him.
One said he had a ‘mandate from the public’ which could not be overridden by Tory MPs.
During a grilling by MPs on the Commons liaison committee yesterday, Mr Johnson equivocated over whether he would countenance calling an election if his MPs tried to remove him.
One Tory MP said such a move would put the Queen in a ‘very difficult position’, adding: ‘She would have to ask is there anyone else who could command the support of MPs – while a broader leadership election took place – rather than go to a general election.’
Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government think-tank, said the monarch did have the power to block an election.
‘Informally, the Palace could tell him no. The question is whether he would go against that informal advice and ask anyway – which would leave the Queen facing a very political decision,’ she added.
‘Whatever you argue about the massive constitutional problems if she did refuse, she can act.’
By convention, ousted leaders stay on to oversee the contest to replace them.
David Cameron and Mrs May remained as prime minister while their successors were elected.
But one MP close to the PM said: ‘He could just go. It would be humiliating for him to stay on after being ousted. I’m not sure he’s got the stomach for that.’
Mr Johnson played a major role in the removal of Mrs May, with his resignation as foreign secretary over Brexit in 2018 seen as a pivotal moment in her downfall.
The former Prime Minister has made little secret of her disdain for her successor.
Last week she savaged his bid to rewrite parts of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, saying: ‘As a patriot, I would not want to do anything that would diminish this country in the eyes of the world.
‘This Bill will not achieve its aims and it will diminish the standing of the UK in the eyes of the world, and I cannot support it.’
‘I don’t want to resign because I have that duty. We need an attorney in government.’
Asked whether she recognises that Mr Johnson will likely sack her, she said: ‘That is his choice, and I will do whatever the Prime Minister asks me to do.’
The PM rejected calls to quit on Wednesday and dramatically sacked Cabinet rival Michael Gove, but was later hit with the departure of a third Cabinet minister – Welsh Secretary Simon Hart – as well as Ms Braverman’s demand.
The withdrawal of the attorney general’s support marks a significant shift by the QC, who was elected as MP for Fareham in May 2015 before being appointed as the top legal official by Mr Johnson in February 2020.
She became the first Cabinet-level minister to take maternity leave and was reappointed to her ministerial position in September.
Special legislation had to be passed by Parliament to enable her to take time off from her ministerial duties.
During her absence she was designated Minister on Leave (Attorney General) while her deputy, Solicitor General Michael Ellis, was made attorney general.
During last month’s confidence vote, Ms Braverman expressed hope the PM would win the poll with a large margin.
The Euro-sceptic had been a supporter of Mr Johnson since her days as the chair of the Brexit-backing European Research Group.
But Ms Braverman on Wednesday joined Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart among Cabinet ministers telling Mr Johnson to stand down.
It is understood that Ms Patel earlier spoke to the Prime Minister to convey the ‘overwhelming view’ of the parliamentary party.
Mr Shapps is thought to have told Mr Johnson that he stood little chance of winning another confidence vote and should instead set out a timetable for a departure on his own terms.
Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed Chancellor on Tuesday, was also thought to be among those taking part in the showdown with Mr Johnson.
But Mr Johnson rejected suggestions he should seek a ‘more dignified exit’ and will instead fight for his political future.
A No 10 source said: ‘The Prime Minister has a mandate from 14 million people to get a job done. He’s very conscious of his commitment to them
‘If the party wants to stop him they have to take that mandate away.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory 1922 Committee, spoke to Mr Johnson on Wednesday to set out the level of backbench opposition.
A new executive for the committee will be elected on Monday which could change the leadership rules, allowing for another confidence vote just a month after the last one – which Mr Johnson may lose given the way MPs have deserted him since Tuesday.
But a No 10 source said: ‘He has called Graham Brady’s bluff. All Graham could say is that there will be an election on Monday.
‘A new 1922 committee on Tuesday could change the rules – but it’s not a given.
‘The party could then demand a re-run of the no-confidence vote – but not a given.
‘And the party could then decide to ditch the PM – but not a given.’
The source warned that ‘the choice is not Boris or no Boris.
‘The choice is a Conservative government with a new Chancellor who will soon outline a new economic programme of tax cuts, deregulation and the benefits of Brexit, or three months of tearing each other apart to elect a leader with no mandate.’
Allies including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg remained supportive of Mr Johnson.
Ms Dorries said the Prime Minister’s priority was to ‘stabilise the Government’.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also remained loyal to Mr Johnson and defended him at a session of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Boris Johnson left Downing Street for the House of Commons yesterday – later than usual as pressure mounts on him to quit
The former Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary had earlier urged Mr Johnson (pictured together above in 2019) to quit Downing Street as the Tory coup ramped up
Mr Johnson’s Cabinet was thinned after Welsh Secretary Simon Hart (above) announced he too would stand down from his position late on Wednesday evening
But since the resignations of Mr Sunak and Mr Javid on Tuesday night, dozens of MPs have quit as ministers, PPSs or trade envoys.
Mr Javid used his resignation statement in the Commons to say ‘enough is enough’ and challenged other Cabinet ministers to consider their positions.
‘Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months,’ he told MPs.
‘I will never risk losing my integrity.’
He said ‘the problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change’.
In a message to Cabinet ministers who decided not to quit, he said: ‘It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when they are not met by others.’
The speech, which had echoes of Geoffrey Howe’s 1990 resignation statement which helped topple Margaret Thatcher, was heard in silence in the Commons, with Mr Johnson sitting grim-faced on the front bench.
Other ministers who quit on Wednesday were Will Quince, Robin Walker, John Glen, Victoria Atkins, Jo Churchill, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien, Alex Burghart, Lee Rowley, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Rachel Maclean and Mike Freer.
In their resignation letters:
- Ex-children and families minister Mr Quince said he could not accept being sent out to defend the Prime Minister on television with inaccurate information on the Chris Pincher row.
- Former justice minister Ms Atkins told Mr Johnson: ‘I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values. We can and must do better than this.’
- Ms Churchill quit as environment minister, saying: ‘Recent events have shown integrity, competence and judgment are all essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations.’
The leadership crisis followed the scandal surrounding former deputy chief whip Mr Pincher, who quit after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London’s Carlton Club.
Downing Street initially said Mr Johnson had no knowledge of previous allegations against Mr Pincher, but the Prime Minister later acknowledged he had been informed of inappropriate behaviour dating back to 2019, and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that point.
The Prime Minister’s authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support in June.
The loss of crunch by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton later that month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while there is still lingering resentment over coronavirus lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
Now the leadership race is REALLY on: Rishi sends out Mrs Sunak to serve tea to waiting press (in £38 mugs) – while Attorney General Suella Braverman shamelessly launches her bid during TV interview
- Tory hopefuls have started leadership jostling as Boris Johnson’s tenure teeters on the brink
- Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty brings out tray of hot drinks for waiting press – in £38 mugs
- Tobias Ellwood and Tom Tugendhat both grilled the PM in Commons committee hearing
- While Liz Truss and Jeremy Hunt highlighted their efforts on their day jobs amid Westminster drama
By Greg Heffer, Political Correspondent For MailOnline
Tory leadership jostling was on full display on Wednesday afternoon as Boris Johnson teetered on the brink.
With the Prime Minister facing a torrent of Conservative MPs calling for him to go, those hoping to replace him were making themselves visible in a variety of ways.
Some used Parliament’s set-piece occasions while others paraded how they were getting on with their day jobs.
And even the family members of leading Tories were thrust into the spotlight as speculation about who could replace Mr Johnson intensified.
Rishi Sunak’s wife delivers (very expensive) mugs of tea for waiting press
Rishi Sunak, 42, was among the first to thrust the knife into the PM as part of the Tory revolt.
He dramatically quit as Chancellor last night to throw Mr Johnson’s premiership into fresh peril.
And while reporters were camped outside his London home on Wednesday – hoping for a first appearance from Mr Sunak since his departure from Government – the ex-Chancellor’s wife popped out to offer refreshments.
Akshata Murty, the heiress of an Indian billionaire, was pictured carrying out a tray of hot drinks for waiting members of the press, as well as a bowl of nuts and plate of biscuits.
The mugs being carried by Ms Murty were later revealed to be Emma Lacey products – with each one worth £38.
Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, was on Wednesday pictured carrying out a tray of hot drinks for waiting members of the press
The billionaire-heiress carefully carried the tray across the cobbles in a black pair of sandals
The mugs being carried by Ms Murty were later revealed to be Emma Lacey products – with each one worth £38
The recent row over Ms Murty’s non-dom tax status was widely viewed as having fatally damaged her husband’s hopes of replacing Boris Johnson
The scene was immediately compared to when Mr Johnson himself delivered a tray of teas for journalists camped outside his Oxfordshire house in 2018
Mary Archer was also famed for bringing cups of tea to waiting press packs during the many scandals afflicting her husband, Sir Jeffrey Archer, in his political career
The scene was immediately compared to when Mr Johnson himself delivered a tray of teas for journalists camped outside his Oxfordshire house in 2018.
That came when Mr Johnson was facing a controversy by his comparison of Muslim women wearing the burka to letterboxes and bank robbers.
Mary Archer was also famed for bringing cups of tea to waiting press packs gathered outside her Cambridgeshire home during the many scandals afflicting her husband, Sir Jeffrey Archer, in his political career.
The recent row over Ms Murty’s non-dom tax status was widely viewed as having fatally damaged her husband’s hopes of replacing Mr Johnson.
But the decision by Mr Sunak, who has two daughters with Ms Murty, to quit the Cabinet – within minutes of Sajid Javid’s exit as health secretary – may have helped revive his fortunes among some Tory MPs.
Suella Braverman launches leadership bid during TV interview
Attorney General and leadership hopeful Suella Braverman outlined her own ambitions on ITV’s Peston – telling the network’s political editor it was time for Mr Johnson to quit as he said she will run for leadership of the party.
Despite her previous staunch support for the Prime Minister, she said he had handled matters ‘appallingly’ in recent days but said she will not step down owing to her ‘statutory legal and constitutional duties’.
On Wednesday night, the attorney general for England and Wales called on Johnson to resign and became the first cabinet minister to say they would run to replace him in any Conservative Party leadership contest.
‘I do think the time has come for the prime minister to step down,’ Braverman said on ITV. She said she did not want to resign from her post. ‘If there is a leadership contest I will put my name into the ring.’
Attorney General and leadership hopeful Suella Braverman outlined her own ambitions on ITV’s Peston – telling the network’s political editor it was time for Mr Johnson to quit as he said she will run for leadership of the party
Tom Tugendhat moves on from dad duties to grilling PM
Tom Tugendhat has been touted as potential leadership candidate and had the chance to quiz the PM in person on Wednesday.
As Mr Johnson appeared before the powerful Liaison Committee – formed of the chairs of all other Commons committees – Mr Tugendhat quizzed the PM about whether he was currently able to ‘concentrate’ on British support for Ukraine.
Mr Tugendhat, 49, the chair of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, also asked Mr Johnson what he viewed as victory for Ukraine.
The PM replied: ‘That is for them to decide. President Zelensky has set out his ambitions. It will ultimately be for him to decide what the terms that he wants.
‘But he has been very clear that he would like to return at least to the status quo ante February 24th.’
Tom Tugendhat – a former soldier who has not ruled out a Tory leadership bid – began his day by sharing his attempts in doing his daughter’s hair
Mr Tugendhat spent their afternoon grilling the PM during his appearance at the Commons’ Liaison Committee
The PM is teetering on the brink as he faces a torrent of Conservative MPs calling for him to resign and leave Downing Street
Mr Tugendhat – a former soldier who has not ruled out a Tory leadership bid – began his day by sharing his attempts in doing his daughter’s hair.
Despite declaring himself as ‘quite pleased’ with his efforts, the father-of-two revealed on Twitter how he had been told: ‘You’re not good at this.’
Some MPs believe the 48-year-old, an Army reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be well-suited to the role and represents the ‘best chance for a fresh start’.
However, some are concerned about his lack of political experience and voting for a second posh PM in a row. He is the son of a high court judge and the nephew of a Tory peer.
He was a member of the Territorial Army when the Iraq War broke out in 2003 and he was mobilised as an Arabic-speaking intelligence officer to serve with the Royal Marines. He went into Iraq as part of Operation TELIC – the initial invasion.
After the war he returned to a job in the City of London but then went back to Iraq to help with the economic reconstruction of the country.
In 2006 the Foreign Office then asked Mr Tugendhat to go to Afghanistan to help grow its national security council. The Tory MP can speak Arabic, Dari and French.
The Tory MP was applauded in the House of Commons during a debate on the UK’s exit from Afghanistan in August 2021 as he detailed his experience in the country.
While ‘hero MP’ Tobias Ellwood ‘stages his own leadership hustings’
Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood who also chairs an influential Commons committee has been put forward as a possible replacement leader.
Mr Ellwood, 55, who received widespread praise for his efforts in trying to save fallen PC Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack in 2017, also grilled the PM during his Liaison Committee appearance.
The former minister, now the chair of the Commons’ Defence Committee, pressed Mr Johnson over defence spending commitments as he urged the PM to ‘invest more’.
He demanded Mr Johnson reconsider a shrinking of the size of the Army.
Mr Ellwood received widespread praise for his efforts in trying to save fallen PC Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack in 2017
MP Tobias Ellwood and Mr Tugendhat also sternly questioned the PM during his appearance at the Commons’ Liaison Committee on Wednesday afternoon
Mr Ellwood and his wife, solicitor Hannah Ryan, live in the MP’s Bournemouth constituency with their two sons
Following his comments, Isabel Hardman – assistant editor of the Spectator, which is often branded the Tory party’s ‘in-house magazine’ – drily noted: ‘Tobias Ellwood seems to have mistaken this Liaison Committee meeting for a leadership hustings and has come with a speech about Britain’s place in the world.’
Mr Ellwood and his wife, solicitor Hannah Ryan, live in the MP’s Bournemouth constituency with their two sons.
However Mr Ellwood, a Remainer, may faces internal challenges if he tries to become leader having recently called for the UK to rejoin the EU single market.
In an article published last month, titled ‘We can upgrade Brexit and ease the cost of living by going back to the single market’, he argued exports to Europe had shrunk by £20bn and the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol remained unresolved.
He said: ‘All these challenges would disappear if we dare to advance our Brexit model by rejoining the EU single market (the Norway model).’
Sajid Javid blasts PM in farewell speech and hints at beginning of his own leadership campaign
Earlier in the day, Mr Javid, 52, took the opportunity of his resignation speech in the Commons chamber to outline what might be the beginnings of his own leadership campaign.
The now former health secretary – who competed against Mr Johnson in the 2019 Tory leadership contest – told MPs: ‘I got into politics to do something, not to be somebody.
‘So it is hard in one way, but not in another. Being a good father, a husband, a son and a citizen is good enough for me.
‘If I can continue to contribute to public life and my party from the back benches it will be a privilege to do so.’
He also launched a broadside at the PM as he publicly questioned Mr Johnson’s ‘integrity’, adding: ‘A team is as good as its team captain, and a captain is as good as his or her team. So loyalty must go both ways.
‘The events of recent months have made it increasingly difficult to be in that team.’
Mr Javid, who has now resigned from the Cabinet twice in the space of two-and-a-half years, insisted he had ‘never been one of life’s quitters’.
‘I didn’t quit when people in my community told me I couldn’t marry the love of my life,’ he told MPs in reference to his wife, Laura.
Liz Truss concentrates on her day job while she waits in the wings
Away from Parliament, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss used her frequently updated social media accounts to reveal how she had spent the day ratifying Finland and Sweden’s formal applications to join NATO.
Ms Truss, 46, was later set to fly away from the dramatic events at Westminster as she is due to attend a G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, later this week.
She is married to accountant Hugh O’Leary and the couple have two teenage daughters, Liberty and Frances.
Ms Truss has been regularly linked with a tilt at No10. The former international trade secretary was promoted last year to succeed Dominic Raab.
The South West Norfolk MP has held a string of Cabinet posts under successive party leaders and is popular with the party grassroots.
But while she has been hawkish over the war in Ukraine, the conflict has hit her prospects after several stumbles.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed how she had spent the day ratifying Finland and Sweden’s formal applications to join NATO
Ms Truss is married to accountant Hugh O’Leary. The couple have two teenage daughters, Liberty and Frances
Prior to the February 24 invasion she visited Russia for talks with her Kremlin counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in which she overtly channeled the style of Margaret Thatcher on a similar trip 35 years previously.
Her use of Instagram to share images of her looking tough and commanding has also drawn comment.
She was also criticised early in the conflict for urging Britons to go to fight for Russia even if they have no military experience, advice later contradicted by senior military figures.
But the Remain voter from 2016 has become a born-again Brexiteer in the years since, something that will aid her in any vote.
As Foreign Secretary she has taken on responsibility for negotiating changes to the Brexit agreement with the EU to sort out the political impasse in Northern Ireland. A deadlock-breaking agreement is unlikely but unilateral action by the UK is being mooted, which could help boost her credentials.
Jeremy Hunt highlights his constituency work while leadership rumours swirl
Mr Johnson’s long-time leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, 55, the former health secretary, spent the day highlighting his efforts as MP for South West Surrey.
He only made a passing reference to ‘other events’ at Westminster as he publicised his meeting with NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard about a new cancer surgery centre at a local hospital.
Mr Hunt went head-to-head with Mr Johnson in the final round of the 2019 Tory leadership contest and has not ruled out another bid for the top job in his recent efforts to topple the PM.
The former minister turned Health Committee chairman has made a series of increasingly high profile public interventions on health policy in recent weeks.
And he has consistently refused to rule out running to replace Boris Johnson if he quits. He tweeted before the no confidence vote: ‘Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change.’
Mr Johnson’s long-time leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, spent the day highlighting his efforts as MP for South West Surrey
Mr Hunt posted about progress towards a new cancer surgery centre and other constituency calls
Mr Hunt, pictured with his wife Lucia, went head-to-head with Mr Johnson in the final round of the 2019 Tory leadership contest
Last month he refused to say whether Boris Johnson was ‘honest’ as he warned the Prime Minister has a ‘big mountain to climb’ in winning back Tory voters.
The South West Surrey MP cast doubt on the PM’s ability to once again prove a Tory vote winner as he insisted it would be a ‘mistake’ to dismiss the party’s local election losses as ‘mid-term blues’.
The comments were seen as a warning shot to the PM – and a clear message to Tory MPs – that he is waiting in the wings should Mr Johnson continue to stumble.
Like Truss he is a former Remain voter who has become a convert to the Brexit cause. He also has his own fair share of gaffs in his locker, including describing his Chinese wife Lucia – with whom he has three children – as ‘Japanese’ in an interview.
Ben Wallace heads to Ukraine and refuses to take part in ‘political parlour games’
The Defence Secretary’s low profile has risen into full view as he emerged as one of the foremost Cabinet hawks on the Ukraine War.
The 52-year-old former Scots Guards officer called the recent mass resignation of ministers ‘political parlour games’
He said: ‘To be clear, I am going on Thursday to see brave Ukrainian men and women training to fight for their lives and their country.
‘I wont be indulging in political parlour games nor will I be resigning.’
The Defence Secretary’s low profile has risen into full view as he emerged as one of the foremost Cabinet hawks on the Ukraine War
Mr Wallace has been at the forefront of efforts to supply Kyiv with weapons and expertise to fight off the Russian invasion, which has boosted his support base and name recognition.
The Sandhurst-educated father of three has overcome a Russian attempt to humiliate him after a Kremlin-backed prankster managed to get through to him on a video call, parts of which were later broadcast on YouTube.
He was asked if he supported Ukraine’s ‘nuclear aims’ by a man claiming to be the PM of Ukraine.
He has also avoided being implicated in the worst failures of the UK’s retreat from Afghanistan last summer, with blame being generally laid at the door of the Foreign Office.
He confirmed Britain is to arm Ukraine with precision-guided M270 rockets that have a range of up to 50 miles to help match Russia’s artillery arsenal.
Frontrunner Penny Mordaunt ignores bookies and shares ministerial work
Betting favourite Penny Mordaunt posted on her Instagram hours after the resignations began, sharing news about trade and investment talks with Egypt.
The Minister of State for Trade also retweeted a video shared by Priti Patel which showed human traffickers being arrested, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘Great work. We need a relentless focus on this.’
Ms Mordaunt, who was fired from her role as defence secretary in 2019 by Boris Johnson, has been notably silent on the matter of his leadership.
The Brexiteer, 49, a naval reservist who once appeared on reality TV in a swimsuit, is popular with party members.
She was the first woman to serve as defence secretary and was also international trade secretary and is currently a trade minister.
Penny Mordaunt was the first woman to serve as defence secretary and was also international trade secretary and is currently a trade minister
While other ministers have been posting their support, or lack of, for the Prime Minister, she pointedly posted about he ministerial work
The Brexiteer, 49, a naval reservist who once appeared on reality TV in a swimsuit, is popular with party members.
Supporters have pushed her credentials as the potential unity candidate any leadership race appears to lack – she is a Brexit voter who backed Jeremy Hunt in 2019.
Ms Mordaunt has already been on resignation watch once this year. In January she spoke out against a proposed £1.2 billion underwater electricity cable project backed by a Russian oligarch and major Tory donor.
She opposed plans by Aquind, co-owned by Alexander Temerko, to construct the interconnector under the Channel between Normandy and Portsmouth.
Temerko, who previously ran a firm producing weapons for Russia’s military, and Aquind have given more than £1 million to the Tories and the oligarch has regularly featured in photos at fundraisers with Prime Ministers and their Cabinets.
Government sources said Mordaunt was ready to quit if the cable was approved. The project was later rejected.