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Boris Johnson’s future as UK PM hangs in balance over partygate

Under Tory party rules, 54 letters are required to trigger a secret ballot and whips and rebel MPs reportedly believe they are on the verge of that threshold.

Boris Johnson leadership challenge
British PM Boris Johnson (AP)

Boris Johnson still faces a precarious future as the British Prime Minister over the fallout of the partygate scandal as a latest opinion poll on Sunday forecast a bruising for his Conservative Party in a by-election scheduled later this month.

More than 40 of his Tory MPs have publicly called for Johnson’s resignation as the party leader over the scandal of COVID law-breaking parties under his premiership at Downing Street, an issue which remains in the spotlight since the scathing findings of leadership failures in an inquiry by top civil servant Sue Gray.

A survey of voters in Wakefield, who go to the polls for a by-election on June 23 to elect a new MP, suggests the Tories could lose by as much as 20 points.

The polling by JL Partners for ‘The Sunday Times’ puts the Opposition Labour Party on 48 points compared with 28 points for the Conservatives, a 19-point drop on the winning Tory performance two-and-a-half years ago.

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Such a result is bound to intensify calls for Johnson’s resignation as Wakefield is part of the so-called “Red Wall” – traditionally Labour-supporting areas in the north of England, the Midlands, and Wales which had switched their support to the Tories under Johnson in the December 2019 general election.

The byelection later this month follows former Pakistani-origin Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan’s resignation in the wake of his conviction over sexual assault. A by-election at Tiverton and Honiton in southern England, on the same day as Wakefield, is also being seen as a referendum of Johnson’s leadership.

According to ‘The Sunday Times’, Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, will count the letters of no-confidence submitted by email and WhatsApp when Parliament returns on Monday morning.

Under Tory party rules, 54 letters are required to trigger a secret ballot and whips and rebel MPs reportedly believe they are on the verge of that threshold.

Johnson, who is keen to move on from the partygate scandal and has repeatedly tried to shift focus on other pressing government matters such as the cost-of-living crisis, would have been shaken on Friday when he along with wife Carrie were booed as they arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the thanksgiving service to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The Sue Gray report, released after a Scotland Yard probe which saw Johnson and wife Carrie being fined for a lockdown-breaching birthday party in the Cabinet Room of Downing Street in June 2020, laid bare illegal gatherings and questionable staff behaviour within government offices during the 2020-2021 lockdowns to control the spread of coronavirus.

Johnson reiterated a previous apology in the House of Commons last month, saying he took full responsibility for what went on under his watch and that steps have been taken to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated.

However, besides the Opposition parties, there have been growing calls for him to step down from his own MPs ever since.

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