Sir David Davis interviews with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on growing discontent amongst Tory MPs over Partygate


As published by the Daily Mail:

David Davis said discontent was spreading through the Conservative party due to MPs fearing the controversy around the Downing Street lockdown parties as two more Tory MPs called for Boris Johnson to quit.

The former cabinet minister, 73, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Nobody in the world could have made it plainer, I don’t think, that I want the Prime Minister to go – I haven’t changed my mind about that.’

Asked whether discontent was spreading in the Tory party, Mr Davis said: ‘There is no doubt about that, for two reasons.

‘Number one, frankly they see their own seats disappearing in many cases, they see themselves losing the next election on the back of this.

‘Also, it has a bad effect on the country … it is a distraction on everything you do and it doesn’t help the reputation of the country.’

The former Brexit secretary said party leadership trouble traditionally took a ‘long time’ to be sorted out, pointing to the length of time Sir John Major and Theresa May stayed in No 10 despite experiencing backbench revolt.

He added: ‘I fear we’ll not resolve this until the latter part of the year.’

Veteran Conservative Sir Bob Neill and 2019 entrant Alicia Kearns both voiced their dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister’s insistence that he had not broken coronavirus rules by attending leaving-dos for departing officials.

Sir Bob, a qualified barrister and chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s premiership following the publication of Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street partying.

Ms Kearns said the senior civil servant’s inquiry demonstrated that Mr Johnson had been ‘complicit in the holding of many goodbye parties for his staff’ which the backbencher said ‘displayed a complete disregard’ for Covid restrictions in place at the time.

The Rutland and Melton MP said she had reached the conclusion that the ‘Prime Minister’s account of events to Parliament was misleading’.

When reports of lockdown breaches at the top of Government first surfaced, Mr Johnson repeatedly told the Commons coronavirus rules had been adhered to in Downing Street.

In her report, Ms Gray found the Prime Minister – who was slapped with a fine by police for attending his own birthday bash in June 2020 when indoor mixing was forbidden – attended a number of leaving-dos in No 10 during the lockdown months in England, often giving speeches about departing officials.

But he has insisted these were work events – a conclusion he said was backed up by the Metropolitan Police opting not to fine him for being present at such gatherings – which only became raucous after he left, with Ms Gray detailing excessive drinking and altercations at one such gathering.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Ms Kearns has also handed in a no-confidence letter to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, but she did not explicitly state that in her Facebook post.

Her alleged involvement in January in a plan by a group of 2019 intake Tories to oust Mr Johnson saw the reported schemers given the nickname of the ‘pork pie plot’ due to Ms Kearns representing Melton Mowbray.

In her social media post, Ms Kearns added: ‘To say we just need to “move on” is to treat with contempt and disregard the sacrifices of … our entire country.

‘My position remains unchanged since January, and the Prime Minister continues not to hold my confidence.’

The growing backbench pressure comes as polling company YouGov produced new modelling which suggested the Conservatives would lose all but three of 88 ‘battleground’ constituencies if a general election were held on Saturday, putting Mr Johnson’s majority in jeopardy.

The predicted outcome would see Mr Johnson’s own Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat ‘likely fall’ into Labour hands and Red Wall seats such as Blyth Valley and Stoke-on-Trent North also revert back to Sir Keir Starmer’s opposition outfit.

Only Ashfield, Bassetlaw, and Dudley North would remain blue, according to YouGov.

A separate poll by Opinium found that Mr Johnson’s net approval rating had dropped by two points to minus 30 since Ms Gray’s report landed on Wednesday and more than half of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed thought he should resign.

That opinion was backed by Sir Bob who said a ‘change in leadership is required’ if trust in the office of Prime Minister and the political process was to be restored following the so-called partygate saga.

In a post on his website, the former minister declared that he did not think the Prime Minister’s explanations were ‘credible’ for why he attended events in No 10 while the rest of the country was subject to rules that ’caused real pain’.

A vote on the Prime Minister’s future will be held if 54 of his MPs write to Sir Graham demanding a confidence vote in their leader.

At least 20 Tories have publicly called for his resignation so far, although more may have penned letters given it is a secret process.

Friday also saw Home Secretary Priti Patel’s parliamentary aide, Tory MP Paul Holmes, quit the role due to the ‘toxic culture’ in No 10 uncovered by Ms Gray.

Despite facing criticism over his partygate defence, the Prime Minister chose to announce changes to the ministerial code on Friday in a move his rivals said watered down punishments for ministers.

An update said ministers will not automatically lose their jobs if they breach the standards code, and can instead apologise or possibly have their salary suspended instead.

Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, said the ‘loosening’ of the ministerial code by Boris Johnson showed why there should be an independent system in place for judging the conduct of ministers.

The Labour MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he disagreed with recommendations made by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life and adopted by the Prime Minister which allow ministers to remain in their jobs for what could be deemed minor breaches of the code.

‘Maybe this is what you would expect from people who have mostly been civil servants in the past – that’s how they end up on the Committee on Standards in Public Life – that they would support a strong government that is, broadly speaking, able to do what it likes,’ Mr Bryant said.

‘But I think what the last couple of years have shown, whether it is Priti Patel instances of bullying when she was basically found guilty of bullying staff in her office by the so-called independent adviser on ministerial interests, but then the Prime Minister decided not even to publish the report because he didn’t like it.

‘I just think you have to end that process, you have to have a proper system whereby an independent figure, entirely without the Prime Minister’s involvement, decides whether or not to launch an investigation into a minister, and decides whether it is a very serious case or a less serious case, and then suggests the sanction.

‘That’s not what the Prime Minister has got, it still all lies in the Prime Minister’s hands and we know, don’t we, that the Prime Minister always finds himself innocent in the court of his own opinion.’