Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman has brutally criticised prime minister Boris Johnson, calling his attitude towards the Partygate scandal “grotesque”.
Mr Norman had written to the 1922 committee, calling for the prime minister’s removal, explaining why the he is no longer fit to lead the Conservative government. A copy of the letter was publicised to social media on Monday morning (June 6) and subsequently on his website later that day.
The prime minister won his confidence vote, which took place on Monday evening—with 211 Conservative MPs voting in to keep the prime minister and 148 MPs voting for his removal—and whilst the rebellion was larger than many expected, he will remain as Conservative party leader.
Surprising to some, the two-page letter only gives a short mention to the events of Partygate, where the prime minister was handed a fixed penalty notice for breaking his own covid social distancing rules. He wrote: “As Sue Grey’s report underlines, you have presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street in relation to covid. To describe yourself as ‘vindicated’ by the report is grotesque.”
However, in addition to that issue, he criticised the prime minister on a substantial number of others.
Mr Norman questions the policy priorities of the prime minister, he claimed that a breach of the Northern Irish Protocol would be economically “damaging, foolhardy, and almost certainly illegal”, and claiming it to be “putting the union itself gravely at risk”.
In his letter to the 1922 committee calling for prime minister’s removal attacked his record on civil rights saying: “No genuinely Conservative government should have supported the recent ban on noisy protest—least of all when basic human freedoms are facing the threat of extinction in Ukraine.”
Amongst a number of other points, Mr Norman accused the government of lacking a sense of mission. Whilst it had a large majority—as won by Mr Johnson in the 2019 snap general election—there is no sign that it has even begun to develop greater security and resilience in a number of policy areas.
He further levies criticism that the prime minister has been trying to import elements of a presidential system of government, which is “entirely foreign to our constitution and law”.
Whilst the letter explains a litany of policy and ideological issues with the prime minister’s conduct in government, it could be the case that the recent rebellion is fuelled by the party’s chances at the next general election. Nationwide opinion polls for the party leader have fallen behind opposition leader Kier Starmer for a number of months, and the Conservative party have suffered substantial losses in the 2022 local elections and subsequent by-elections. MPs in marginal seats might be more likely to want to oust an unpopular prime minister for the sake of saving their seats at the next general election.
The prospects of future political campaigns were mentioned in Mr Norman’s letter, where he said: “For you to prolong this charade by remaining in office not only insults the electorate, and the tens of thousands of people who support, volunteer, represent, and campaign for our party; it makes a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely. This is potentially catastrophic for this country.”
Much of Johnson’s basis for his position as party leader comes from his decisive victory in the 2019 general election, where he is credited with winning a substantial Conservative majority over Theresa May’s Conservative-DUP coalition. With West Yorkshire and Devon by-elections being held in June, the prime minister’s reputation as an election winner could depend on successful Conservative defences in those two seats.
Last week the Gazette reported that North Herefordshire MP Sir Bill Wiggin says he would continue to support Boris Johnson following the publication of Sue Gray’s Partygate report.
The inquiry was scathing of the drinks and party culture at No 10 during lockdown, when such events were banned nationwide.
The North Herefordshire MP said: “Steps have been taken in government to address some of the criticisms made in Sue Gray’s report.”
He added: “But whichever way you read it, ultimately the Prime Minister has taken full responsibility, paid the fine and apologised. It’s down to all of us whether we accept that apology, and some will not.”