Conservative rebellion against UK's PM gains momentum as 3 more MPs join fray

Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson is under pressure to step down over gatherings that allegedly violated Covid-19 rules. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The Conservative rebellion against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gained momentum when three more MPs said he had lost their confidence, following further reports of parties in Downing Street during lockdown.

Mr Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, and rank-and-file MPs Anthony Mangnall and Gary Streeter all said on Wednesday (Feb 2) that they were submitting letters to the influential 1922 committee calling for a vote of no-confidence in Mr Johnson's leadership.

Mr Johnson dismissed criticism about the conduct of his administration in the Commons, saying that it was "more vital than ever" for the government "to get on with the job" - pointing to a long-awaited plan to reduce economic inequality, and his efforts to help ease tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

The relentless flow of allegations of rule-breaking gatherings, dubbed Partygate by British media, has damaged Mr Johnson's standing within his Conservative Party, and the danger for the Prime Minister is that enough colleagues are also persuaded to submit letters.

If the total reaches 54 - or 15 per cent of the party's MPs - it will trigger a no-confidence vote in the Premier.

"I cannot reconcile the pain and sacrifice of the vast majority of the British public during lockdown with the attitude and activities of those working in Downing Street," Mr Streeter said in a statement on his website.

So far, at least 14 Tories have publicly either called for Mr Johnson to go or said they have written a letter.

Tory MPs Andrew Mitchell, a former Cabinet minister, and Peter Aldous also this week called on him to quit. But many others have said they are reserving judgment until a police inquiry into 12 gatherings reaches its conclusion.

Mr Johnson faced multiple questions from opposition MPs on Wednesday over fresh allegations of parties during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Telegraph reported that he was seen heading up to his flat on Nov 13, 2020, when a gathering was held, which is now being investigated by the police.

The Guardian said he had attended another boozy leaving party for staff in January 2021.

Mr Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party's Westminster leader, branded Mr Johnson a "dangerous distraction at home and a running joke on the international stage".

Mr Johnson said he could not comment on alleged gatherings while the Metropolitan Police was investigating.

The police probe into potential criminal offences - which could take weeks or even months - has delayed the publication of the full findings of a civil service inquiry by senior official Sue Gray.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman, Mr Max Blain, told reporters in a regular briefing on Wednesday that the Prime Minister had not yet been contacted by police for interview.

Ms Gray's final report and the police investigation will provide moments of danger for the Prime Minister and ensure the lockdown parties remain in the public eye.

In an attempt to shift the narrative, Mr Johnson's government on Wednesday fleshed out his vision to "level up" Britain - a key catchphrase in the Conservative Party's election-winning campaign of 2019 - and said it would move many decision-making powers away from London and seek to boost pay and productivity in Britain's most deprived regions.

Key measures in the plan include creating more local mayors, a commitment to boost public investment outside the south-east of England and regenerate town centres, according to a statement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

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