Pork Pie Plotters courted by Rishi Sunak: As Boris spends the weekend holed up at Chequers rallying MPs – is the Chancellor on manoeuvres plotting to replace him?
As Mr Johnson spends the weekend trying to shore up his support by calling wavering MPs from his Chequers country retreat, Mr Sunak has been cementing his standing among the so-called Pork Pie Plotters who want to remove the Prime Minister from Downing Street.
Shortly after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – when Mr Johnson endured the defection to Labour of one of his MPs, Christian Wakeford, and a call for his resignation from former Cabinet Minister David Davis – Mr Sunak met rebel ringleaders from the Red Wall constituencies won from Labour in the 2019 General Election.
As part of what was interpreted as a drive to reassure the plotters that he would be as generous as Mr Johnson with regional funding, a source said they were reassured that their constituencies would receive ‘unlimited’ Treasury support, adding: ‘He didn’t mention the leadership, but he didn’t have to – he made clear that they would be safe in his hands.’
The attempted putsch against Boris Johnson by Tory MPs angered by the Partygate row has renewed suspicions between the Prime Minister (right) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left), who is the favourite to succeed him
Challengers falling short says rebel who U-turned
By Anna Mikhailova, Deputy Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday
A Conservative MP who last week withdrew a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister accused the would-be leadership contenders of ‘falling short’.
The MP told the Mail on Sunday Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the two frontrunners to succeed Boris Johnson, have not been convincing on their commitment to ‘levelling up’.
The MP submitted a letter to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, the previous week after becoming angry with the Prime Minister over repeated revelations of parties at Downing Street and the Government’s handling of the scandal.
The Tory MP warned colleagues considering submitting letters of no confidence: ‘They should be very careful we don’t end up jumping out of Boris’s frying pan and into Rishi’s free market fire.
‘Rishi and Liz have been showing a lot of leg that they are more about free market, which means less investment. This threatened levelling up for constituents if you are an MP in an area of deprivation.’
It requires 54 letters to trigger a confidence vote. Last week a group of MPs elected in 2019 submitted letters in a co-ordinated bid dubbed the Pork Pie Plot.
However, momentum stalled after Christian Wakeford, the former Tory MP for Bury South, defected to Labour. As many as seven no-confidence letters were reportedly withdrawn by Tory MPs as a result.
The MP who withdrew the no-confidence letter said Mr Johnson was still seen as more likely to deliver on previous spending commitments to constituencies.
The source said Mr Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, his main leadership rival, had texted the rebels within hours of Mr Johnson’s hangdog interview with Sky News on Tuesday in which he sighed and mumbled about his Government’s travails.
Mr Johnson’s Cabinet allies, led by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, are battling to save his Premiership as Downing Street braces for the publication of the official report into Partygate – and for the potential sparking of an explosive leadership contest.
Ms Dorries – a die-hard Johnson loyalist – uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to condemn the ‘attention-seeking behaviour’ of rebel Tory MPs who have been trying to muster the 54 letters of no-confidence needed to trigger a Commons vote on removing the Prime Minister from office.
Ms Dorries, describing them as a ‘small minority’ devoted to ‘chasing airtime and column inches because they are determined to remove our most successful PM since Margaret Thatcher from office’, warns that the rebels risk jeopardising the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
She writes: ‘When historians look back, the UK’s vaccine rollout will be seen as one of the most successful peacetime operations in history – thanks to Boris.
‘He also took the decision to hold out against another lockdown this winter in the face of intense pressure and doom-laden predictions from Labour. How many businesses were saved as a consequence? How many millions of people were enabled to have Christmas with their families?’
The Culture Secretary adds: ‘Of course there have been mistakes. The last two years have been hell for everyone, and for those working 18 hours every single day after day for weeks on end in the Downing Street war rooms, lines clearly became blurred.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is also playing a key role in bolstering support, along with other members of Mr Johnson’s 2019 leadership campaign team.
No 10 fears that the report into Partygate by senior civil servant Sue Gray, which is expected to land by Thursday, will prompt a further flurry of letters to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, and a dramatic Commons showdown.
ustralian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (L) and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (R) arrive for Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) talks at Admiralty House, in Sydney, Australia, 21 January 2022
Bury South constituency MP Christian Wakeford speaks during a visit by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves on January 20, 2022 in Bury, Englan
‘Conspiracy’ MP takes nanny on Commons trip to Ukraine
The Tory MP said to be at the heart of the plotting against Boris Johnson last week took her baby and nanny on a Commons committee trip to Ukraine.
Alicia Kearns was accompanied by her 11-month-old baby daughter and a nanny on the three-day foreign affairs committee visit to the country fearing an invasion by more than 100,000 Russian troops.
ON FRONT LINE: Alicia Kearns
The fact-finding trip included a visit to the eastern Ukraine ‘front line’ that had apparently been shelled by Russian-backed forces two weeks earlier. However, it is understood that the baby and nanny stayed safely behind in a hotel about 90 minutes from the front.
Ms Kearns, 34, has in the past has been an outspoken critic of MPs taking babies into the Commons Chamber.
She said: ‘Babies have no place in the chamber. I’ve asked to leave debates to feed my child a few times – I have never been turned down.’
It is understood Ms Kearns, who is still breast-feeding her baby, offered to pay any extra costs but the Commons footed the bill in line with its rules.
It is not the first time an MP has taken her baby on a Commons committee trip overseas.
In 2019, then MP Luciana Berger took her six-month-old child and her mother on an overseas visit on health committee business.
Mr Johnson’s allies say he will fight any attempt to topple him, but if a majority of his MPs vote against him the Tory party will be plunged into its second leadership contest in under three years.
A number of MPs are known to have written their letters ready to send in if the report proves to be damning.
Tory strategists worry that if Mr Johnson narrowly wins a confidence vote and stays on, the party will be trapped in a slow death cycle. Under the rules, the Prime Minister would be protected from a further challenge for a year.
The attempted putsch has unleashed infighting between rival camps of Tory MPs, with whips also accused of heavy-handed attempts to intimidate the rebels with the threat of revealing allegations about their sex lives.
One MP claims it was hinted that he would be outed as homosexual, while another was reportedly warned that alleged sexual harassment would be revealed. A third was confronted with hotly denied claims of unusual sexual peccadillos with male prostitutes. One has threatened to release a recording of a whip’s threats.
William Wragg, a backbencher who accused Downing Street of trying to blackmail rebel MPs, said yesterday he would meet police to discuss his allegations. Downing Street said it had not seen any proof of the behaviour he alleges.
Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said about a dozen Tory MPs alleged whips threatened to withdraw funding for their constituencies. MPs loyal to Mr Johnson also confronted rebel ringleaders in the Commons tea room after PMQs. One, who was described as a ‘traitor’ for joining a meeting of 18 Red Wallers in the office of Rutland and Melton MP Alicia Kearns, bluntly told his accuser: ‘Just f*** off.’
Pro-Johnson MPs also received brutal treatment. Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis, one of a few Red Wallers to back the Prime Minister on MPs’ WhatsApp groups, was ridiculed for a TV interview in which he claimed letters were being withdrawn – but admitted he didn’t know by whom or how many.
The rebels – dubbed the Pork Pie Plotters because Ms Kearns’s constituency is home to Melton Mowbray pies – said dismissive references to them by Johnson allies as ‘f****** nobodies’ and ‘ungrateful rookies’ had made them more determined. ‘After hearing that, I would crawl across broken glass to put in my letter,’ said one.
If the 54 letters are received, then Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, along with other likely contenders such as former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are ready to run.
Early signs suggest that MPs are coalescing behind Mr Sunak, although one who has been courted said: ‘My impression is that Liz wants to go for it now, while Rishi would prefer for all this fuss to die down and run in the summer.’
NADINE DORRIES: Behaviour of attention-seeking MPs risks sabotaging magnificent achievements for Boris Johnson and Britain
By Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom writing for the Mail on Sunday
Ten years ago in this newspaper I came out as the first MP to back Boris for Prime Minister. I wrote that he had a proven track record as a winner.
At a time when the party, under David Cameron’s leadership, was consistently trailing behind in the polls, Boris won the London mayoral election – twice.
In December 2019, he had the force of personality to secure a majority of more than 80 and win those important ‘Red Wall’ seats, some of which we had never taken before.
Last week, sadly, a small minority of my colleagues spent their time chasing airtime and column inches because they are determined to remove from office our most successful Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher.
The same old names keep cropping up.
Last week, sadly, a small minority of my colleagues spent their time chasing airtime and column inches because they are determined to remove from office our most successful Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher, writes NADINE DORRIES
As for allegations about threatening behaviour from the whips, I can only imagine what vapours some of them would have had during the long days and nights of the Maastricht vote in 1993, when the party machine went into overdrive to secure a pro-EU majority.
The truth is, the recent portrayal of our whips office is largely out of date and mostly fiction. There is no truth, for example, in lurid claims that dissenting MPs have had funding for their constituencies threatened. Whips simply have no say in what is spent or where.
After 17 years as an MP – and one who is no stranger to the odd rebellion – I can honestly say the worst reaction I ever had from a whip was disappointment.
Sadly, the attention-seeking behaviour of these few MPs risks overshadowing a major achievement for Britain and for our PM.
There really is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, as the World Health Organisation declared last week. After two extremely difficult years, the United Kingdom is on the verge of returning to normal life again – thanks to the Prime Minister, who has led from the front, furiously championing the booster rollout campaign.
He has consistently said both in private and in public, there is only one way out of Covid and that is to throw everything we have behind the vaccines.
How right he has been proved.
This laser focus, his absolute commitment to do what had to be done, has meant that January 26 will mark the end of all remaining Covid restrictions, including the legal requirement to wear masks in shops and other indoor spaces.
Countless other countries are still living in the shadow of the virus. Germany, for example, has just introduced strict rules for restaurants and bars.
We, meanwhile, are stepping back out into the light, with one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. There are 420,000 more people in work today than there were at the start of the pandemic.
We were the first country in the world to vaccinate someone against Covid with a fully tested jab. Why?
Because this Prime Minister threw everything he could at the problem, taking an educated gamble to pursue as many different vaccine candidates as possible and signing contracts at speed.
While other governments dithered and delayed and Keir Starmer repeatedly objected to our approach, Boris Johnson had the prescience and courage to bite the bullet, to push through and commit to taking decisions at exactly the right moment and with speed.
That solid conviction is the true test of leadership during a crisis.
By the end of last February, the UK had delivered 20 million vaccines. In France, it was less than five million.
When historians look back, the UK’s vaccine rollout will be seen as one of the most successful peacetime operations in history – thanks to Boris.
He also took the decision to hold out against another lockdown this winter in the face of intense pressure and doom-laden predictions from Labour.
Instead of listening to the armchair epidemiologists, he went hell for leather, rolling out the booster mission.
As a result, there was a day when an incredible one million people came forward to be jabbed. Together, with his leadership, we fought back against Omicron.
How many businesses were saved as a consequence? How many millions of people were enabled to have Christmas with their families?
Of course there have been mistakes. The past two years have been hell for everyone, and for those working 18 hours every single day for weeks on end in the Downing Street war rooms, lines clearly became blurred.
Sue Gray’s report will deal with this and hopefully set recommendations for the future.
Beyond the distracting noises off, however, the fast-paced work of Government remains focused on levelling up parts of the country ignored for too long. In my own department, we have plans to speed up the broadband revolution, with a £5 billion rollout of ‘gigabit’ networks now gathering pace across the country.
We’re on the side of hard-working households, freezing the BBC licence fee for two years, and have already begun work to discover a new and fairer way of funding the Corporation. We have truly uplifting and historic moments to look forward to in 2022, including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
No other British monarch has reached the milestone of a 70-year reign, and we’re making great progress on plans for a four-day blockbuster weekend of street parties, with the very best of British pomp and pageantry.
A couple of months later, we will be hosting the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, which are already the most popular in history, with more than one million tickets sold.
To the small number of my colleagues who continue to agitate against their leader, I ask them to name one other politician who would have the determination and personality to drive through Brexit and lead this country out of the pandemic into a strong recovery; who would stand up to Russia as it threatens Ukraine and understands the pressures on the wallets of hard-working families.
This promises to be a year of liberation. The last time we came close to this was in 2012, the year when Boris as Mayor delivered the Olympics, when the country buzzed and fizzed with excitement and we were filled with a sense of pride and achievement.
He was a winner then and, as he has proven throughout the pandemic, he’s still our winner now.