Could Boris Johnson command the confidence of the Commons? That’s the question being asked in Westminster this week as various ‘Stop Boris’ factions emerge. The Standard reports that Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has told Theresa May that she ought to only advise the Queen to appoint Johnson or Jeremy Hunt as her successor if she is confident that they can command a majority in the Commons. With hostility growing over Johnson’s Brexit plan – which could lead to no deal – it’s BoJo who this appears to be aimed at.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that the Johnson campaign had been warned by the Chief Whip that there was a high likelihood Boris would lose a vote of no confidence within 24 hours of taking the job. Smith raised concerns that two Tory MPs could defect from the party in protest, thereby destroying its majority in parliament. So, what are the chances? It’s certainly true that there are some Conservative MPs who would be willing to either vote against the government or abstain in a confidence vote if they believed doing so would avoid a no-deal Brexit. Both Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve have suggested on record that they would do so. Meanwhile, Amber Rudd told me on Pienaar’s Politics that she believes the numbers are there to successfully bring down the government – referring to private conversations she says she has had with MPs on the issue.
There are two points to consider, however, when it comes to how likely it is an outcome. Firstly, would Tory MPs actually go through with such a drastic measure. Rudd has said it would be a step too far for her. Johnson allies believe that the bulk of MPs would not go through with it when push came to shove, as in doing so they would be ushering in a Corbyn government. Not helping the numbers situation, however, is the fact that the various Change UK and former Change UK MPs appear to have undergone a change of tack and have gone from saying they would abstain in such a vote, to saying they would vote no confidence. It follows that were the vote to take place, it would likely be on a knife edge and too close to call.
But when would the vote happen? The whips suspect that Jeremy Corbyn would try and call a no-confidence vote the day after the Tory leadership result – Labour has put MPs on a three-line whip for that date. However, there’s still a sense amongst the bulk of no-deal sceptic Tories that they would only do this as a last resort and they would want to give the new prime minister – even prime minister Johnson – some time to actually try and get a Brexit deal. It follows that the point at which a no confidence vote has the highest chance of passing is after the summer holidays in the autumn once MPs are clearer as to what exactly Johnson is planning on Brexit.