Conservative lawmakers have endorsed a law-breaking Boris Johnson: Opposition leaders

British opposition leaders said the public were "fed up" with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - British opposition leaders seized on the result of the no-confidence vote on Monday (June 6) to paint Conservative lawmakers as having endorsed the leadership of a law-breaking prime minister.

"Conservative MPs made their choice tonight," said the leader of the Labour Party, Mr Keir Starmer. "They have ignored the wishes of the British public."

Voters, he said, are "fed up - fed up - with a prime minister who promises big but never delivers".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived the tense vote of no-confidence, fending off a mutiny that nevertheless leaves him reeling and presages a volatile period in British politics as he fights to stay in power and lead a divided Conservative Party.

The vote, 211-148, fell short of the majority of Tory lawmakers needed to oust Mr Johnson. But it laid bare how badly his support has eroded since last year, when a scandal erupted over revelations that he and his senior aides threw parties at No. 10 Downing Street that violated the government's Covid-19 lockdown rules.

More than 40 per cent of Conservative lawmakers voted against him in an unexpectedly large rebellion.

The result leaves Conservatives restive and divided, after a tense day in which senior members of the party sparred openly on social media. Some lawmakers argued that his position had become untenable.

Mr Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker, expressed surprise at the size of the rebellion.

"I think the Prime Minister has to go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he goes from here," Mr Gale said to the BBC.

But one of Mr Johnson's defenders, Mr James Cleverly, a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said that "he's won it comfortably and now we need to get on with the job".

He said of Mr Johnson's electoral track record: "There's no other candidate that is going to get anything like that level of support."

Mr Johnson was greeted warmly when he addressed Conservatives earlier in the afternoon, with some lawmakers pounding their desks in gestures of support, according to those in attendance. But he also got challenging questions, and as the members drifted out of the committee room afterwards, it was clear he had not convinced all those who opposed him to call off their mutiny.

"I told the Prime Minister that if he broke the law, he would have to go," said Mr Steve Baker, an influential pro-Brexit lawmaker who has called on Mr Johnson to step down.

"He's clearly broken the law, he's clearly acquiesced in the law being broken, so I stick to my word that I gave on the record that he should go."

Mr Cleverly said the Prime Minister "was in very much serious mode", and that his speech was "light on jokes and heavy on plans and policy".

He said: "He's actually got a plan for what he wants to do next, how we deliver on the promises we made in the 2019 general election, how we continue delivering through really, really difficult times."

The latest chapter of this drama began on Sunday when Mr Johnson was informed by Mr Graham Brady, the head of a committee of Conservative Party backbenchers, that the threshold of 54 letters calling for a no-confidence vote had been reached. Mr Brady and Mr Johnson then negotiated the timing of a vote, with the Prime Minister pushing to hold it quickly.

That gave Mr Johnson a tactical advantage because it deprived would-be rivals of time to organise a challenge to him.

One potential challenger, Mr Jeremy Hunt, tried to move quickly, declaring on Monday that he would be "voting for change".

Mr Hunt, a former health secretary and foreign secretary, lost out to Mr Johnson as party leader in 2019.

Ms Nadine Dorries, Mr Johnson's culture secretary and one of his most ardent defenders, bitterly criticised Mr Hunt for "destabilising the party and country to serve your own ambition".

In a post on Twitter, she said: "You've been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now."

The timing of the vote was also dictated by Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, a four-day celebration that ended on Sunday. Mr Brady was determined not to allow news of a no-confidence vote to overshadow the festivities. As a result, Britain's political drama played out behind closed doors while the political establishment gathered to pay tribute to the Queen in a series of public events.

During a star-studded concert last Saturday evening, Mr Johnson watched performers including Alicia Keys and Queen while Conservative lawmakers pored over a memo from anonymous members circulating on their WhatsApp group, which warned that failing to eject Mr Johnson would bring the party to ruin, according to a report in The Telegraph.

The blunt assessment of the memo, published by The Telegraph, was that "Boris Johnson is no longer an electoral asset".

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