Following by-election defeats in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield, the treasurer of the backbench 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, has suggested his colleagues will soon have some further ‘difficult decisions’ to make around the prime minister’s future.
The veteran MP’s comments follow Oliver Dowden MP’s surprise resignation as Conservative Party Chairman.
In a carefully worded 6am resignation letter, one that was likely drafted before the by-election defeats, Mr Dowden wrote, “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office”.
Mr Dowden is the first Cabinet minister to resign since the ‘partygate’ affair. The former Cabinet minister does not endorse the prime minster in a resignation letter. Its significance may be in what it doesn’t contain.
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The prime minister may be equally concerned by the public reaction to the Conservative electoral defeats of Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP. Sir Geoffrey’s latest intervention suggests Mr Johnson’s opponents are far from willing to draw a line in the sand after the prime minister’s recent no confidence vote victory.
A Conservative party leader who has previously won a vote among his colleagues can expect to avoid a new leadership challenge within 12 months in normal circumstances.
However, the rules around a ‘no confidence’ challenge are not published in the public donain, and it is understood that this part of the Conservative leadership election process can be changed at any time by the executive of the 1922 committee in consultation with the Conservative party board.
The 1922 committee’s executive is dominated in part by MPs who are hostile to the prime minster. These MPs include Sir Geoffrey-Clifton Brown, Nus Ghani and William Wragg.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on Friday, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, responded to the suggestion that his committee may change the rules that protect Boris Johnson from a further leadership challenge for 12 months, by saying, “I am not going to speculate on behalf of my colleagues on whether we should or shouldn’t change the rules”.
However as he continued, Sir Geoffrey appeared to be doing very much that….
He said, “What is going to happen in the next few days is that the prime minister is going to set out, to both his cabinet and to us as members of parliament, his response to the problems we face in this country”.
“We in the parliamentary party will then have to make a judgement as to whether we think that is a satisfactory explanation or whether we should actually take steps to have a new prime minister. But I am not going to speculate as to how that process will turn out”.
“I have got an AGM tonight, I will consider what my members say, I will then discuss this matter widely with my colleagues. We will hear what the prime minister says, and then we will have to make some difficult decisions, no doubt”.
Boris Johnson won a vote of no confidence earlier in June by 211 votes to the 148. 32 MPs would have to change their loyalty if a future contest is facilitated by Executive of the 1922 Committee to expel the prime minister.
With Boris Johnson thought highly unlikely to fall on his sword, and with the Cabinet (as of now) appearing loyal to the prime minister, the approach of Sir Geoffrey’s committee to a future no-confidence vote has undoubted significance.