LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a vote that could remove him from power on Monday after dozens of his own lawmakers wrote letters calling for his ouster.
Johnson has caused fury across the country after the revelation of a string of Covid lockdown-busting parties inside his No. 10 Downing Street residence and office over the past two years. The prime minister and dozens of others have been been fined by police for the parties — having previously tried to deny that they ever took place.
It is a remarkable situation for Johnson, less than three years after he secured a Brexit deal with the European Union, swept to victory in a 2019 election, and garnered predictions that his rule could last a decade.
But the nationwide anger has crucially divided Johnson’s Conservative Party, many of whom are worried about polling that suggests the ‘partygate’ scandal has caused millions of voters to turn against them.
Disquiet has bubbled for weeks, but early Monday party officials announced that there would be a so-called vote of no confidence in the prime minister held later in the day. Under party rules, this is triggered when 15 percent of its members of Parliament — currently 54 MPs — write formal letters saying they want their leader gone.
Like much of British politics, it is an arcane and secretive process. And until now the total number of letters has only been known by one man, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of a group called the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Conservative lawmakers.
On Monday Brady confirmed the 54 threshold had been reached. Now there will be a secret ballot; Johnson needs more than 50 percent of Conservative MPs to support him, currently 180 votes. If he loses he’s out, and there would be a leadership contest among his party rivals to replace him.
If he wins that secret ballot, he will be safe from further challenge for 12 months — officially at least. In reality the ruthless Conservative Party has a history of deposing leaders despite them winning votes of no confidence. In 2019, Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May won such a vote, but the sizeable minority that came out against her made it clear that she could no longer carry on.
Under slightly different rules in 1990, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher defeated a challenge from her own finance minister but withdrew after consulting her Cabinet, who made it clear to her that she no longer had the full party’s support.