LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied calls to resign in a feisty performance Wednesday in Parliament — but it may be too little to prevent a push by his Conservative Party’s lawmakers to oust him over a string of lockdown-flouting government parties.
Pressure on the prime minister grew as one Conservative lawmaker defected to the opposition Labour Party and a former Conservative Cabinet Minister told him: “In the name of God, go!”
The demand from ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis came during a combative Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons, where Johnson defended his government’s record running the economy, fighting crime and dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
The opposition Labour Party was boosted by the defection to their ranks of Conservative lawmaker Christian Wakeford, who said the prime minister was “incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”
Johnson brushed aside calls to quit, but his defiant performance was met with muted cheers on the Conservative side of the House of Commons.
Conservative legislators are judging whether to trigger a no-confidence vote in Johnson amid public anger over the “partygate” allegations. It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for a politician who just over two years ago led the Conservatives to their biggest election victory in almost 40 years.
Under Conservative Party rules, a no-confidence vote in the party’s leader can be triggered if 54 party lawmakers — 15% of the party’s House of Commons total — write letters to a party official demanding it.
So far only a handful of Conservative members of Parliament have openly called for Johnson to quit, though several dozen are believed to have submitted letters, including some elected as part of a Johnson-led landslide in December 2019.
Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen, who is calling for a change, said he thought the 54-letter threshold would be reached “this week,” setting the stage for a confidence vote within days.
If Johnson lost a confidence vote among the party’s 359 lawmakers, it would trigger a contest to replace him as Conservative leader. The winner would also become prime minister. If Johnson won the vote, he would be safe from a similar challenge for a year.
Some Conservative legislators urged colleagues to show unity.
“Now is the time to get behind the prime minister,” said Jake Berry, a Johnson ally.