The senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has revealed he is to submit a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson, as more Tories broke cover to criticise the prime minister after the Sue Gray report into the Downing Street lockdown parties.
Ellwood, who is chair of the defence committee and a former Foreign Office minister, is the fifth MP to publicly declare intentions to submit a letter after the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, and the backbenchers Andrew Bridgen, Sir Roger Gale, and Peter Aldous. At least 54 letters would be required to trigger a vote among Tory MPs on Johnson’s future.
Others who have called on Johnson to resign include the former cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis, as well as committee chairs Caroline Nokes and William Wragg. A 2019 intake MP, Elliot Colburn, has also hinted he had submitted a letter by telling constituents that his “patience had snapped” and suggesting the prime minister should consider his position.
The former prime minister Theresa May, Aaron Bell from the 2019 intake and veteran backbencher Gary Streeter have also been publicly critical of Johnson, while the centrist Tory MP Tom Tugendhat has declared he would run to replace him in any leadership contest.
Speaking on Sky News, Ellwood said: “I believe it’s time for the prime minister to take a grip of this; he himself should call a vote of confidence rather than waiting for the inevitable 54 letters to be eventually submitted.
“It’s time to resolve this completely so the party can get back to governing, and, yes, I know the next question you will ask – I will be submitting my letter today to the 1922 Committee.”
It would need to be at least 54 Tory MPs – or 15% of the party – to submit letters stating the prime minister had lost their support in order to trigger a confidence ballot.
If that number of letters is received by Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, Tory MPs would vote anonymously on whether the prime minister should continue in office. If Johnson were to lose, there would be a leadership contest and he would be barred from entering.
Ellwood, the MP for Bournemouth East and former defence minister, said on Wednesday morning: “This is just horrible for all MPs to continuously have to defend this to the British public.
“The government’s acknowledged the need for fundamental change, culture, make-up, discipline, the tone of No 10, but the strategy has been one, it seems, of survival, of rushed policy announcements like the navy taking over the migrant Channel crossings.
“And attacking this week Keir Starmer with Jimmy Savile … I mean, who advised the prime minister to say this? We’re better than this, we must seek to improve our standards and rise above where we are today.”
He added: “I don’t think the prime minister realises how worried colleagues are in every corner of the party, backbenchers and ministers alike, that this is all only going one way and will invariably slide towards a very ugly place.”
Only Brady knows how many letters have been submitted to him and he is in charge of making any announcement that the threshold for a ballot has been reached.
A group of up to 20 Tory MPs from the 2019 intake were on the brink of submitting letters of no confidence in the prime minister two weeks ago. The incident was known as the “pork pie plot” after the group gathered to discuss their options in the office of Alicia Kearns, the MP for Melton.
However, none of them have since confirmed that their letters actually went in to Brady and some are thought to have withdrawn them since the defection of their colleague Christian Wakeford to Labour.