Boris Johnson allies fear they would lack votes to stop his suspension from Parliament

·3 min read
If a suspension is recommended, Boris Johnson’s fate would be in the hands of his colleagues - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
If a suspension is recommended, Boris Johnson’s fate would be in the hands of his colleagues - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Allies of Boris Johnson fear they would lack the Commons votes to save him from being suspended from Parliament by the privileges committee.

Last week, the former prime minister endured a bruising appearance in front of the committee, which will now rule on whether he “knowingly or recklessly” misled MPs over what he knew about Downing Street parties.

It could recommend a suspension of more than 10 days which, if ratified by the Commons, would trigger a recall petition and could lead to a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

Rishi Sunak has said Conservative MPs will have a free vote on the committee’s report, meaning Mr Johnson’s fate would be in the hands of his colleagues.

A senior backbench ally of the former prime minister said he would receive the support of a “significant number” of Tory MPs, with “probably up to 40, maybe a bit more” voting to protect him. However, this would still fall far short of the hundreds he would be likely to need to save him from suspension.

The ally accused Number 10 of “vitriol and poison” towards Mr Johnson, and said Mr Sunak had made a mistake in refusing to whip MPs to defend him.

The ally added: “A vote like that is going to go down very badly with the party outside of Westminster.”

Granting a free vote had given a “get out of jail card” to ministers and backbench MPs who had already “knifed” Mr Johnson last summer, the ally said, adding: “I personally think it should be a three-line whip, and with that people have to actually be accountable for their decisions and their choices rather than hiding.”

In a further dig at Mr Sunak, the ally accused the prime minister of “coasting off the back” of Mr Johnson’s 2019 election victory and said he was  “not an election winner”.

There is growing concern about Mr Johnson’s political future among his supporters. Another ally told The Telegraph last week that it would be sensible for him to front-load spending in his seat in anticipation of a by-election and before a cap on campaign funding came into place.

Lord Hayward, a Tory MP and pollster, said Mr Johnson’s ambitions had been dealt a blow by both his committee appearance and his unsuccessful attempt to lead a Commons revolt against Mr Sunak’s Brexit deal.

“Boris put his neck on the line,” he said. “He said early he was going to vote against, which was almost a clarion call for others to join him – and they took the decision not to.”

However, allies may get an opportunity to rehabilitate Mr Johnson at a grassroots Tory conference in May. The Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO), a pressure group packed with supporters of the former prime minister, is holding its inaugural gathering on May 13.

The event will be attended by a trio of ex-Cabinet allies of Mr Johnson – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries – although the former prime minister is not expected to attend.

The event will take place a week after the local elections, which are predicted to be challenging for Mr Sunak.

David Campbell-Bannerman, the chairman of the CDO, told The Telegraph that if the results were poor the Prime Minister would face a “reckoning” from activists.

“If there’s no sign of change, I think MPs will panic after May and I think it will be a very dangerous time for Rishi,” he said. “CDO is not a bring back Boris campaign. We are about party reform. But the point we make is that if you put members back in charge, then if they want Boris as leader then you have to respect that.”

A source close to Mr Johnson said: “We respect the privileges committee and are waiting for them to come to their conclusions. When they bring those forward, we will study them with care.”