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What is a no confidence vote in the UK and why is it happening to Boris Johnson?

The Prime Minister facing a vote of no confidence from his own party which could see him removed from office and a replacement found to lead the country.

What is a vote of no confidence?

Facing mounting pressure from his own party members, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a crucial vote on Monday evening after 54 Conservative MPs submitted a letter of no confidence in his leadership.

Conservative Party guidelines dictate that members of the Parliamentary party can trigger a vote on the leader’s suitability for the role if 15% of their number submit letters. Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the influential backbench 1922 Committee has confirmed that the threshold has been met and a vote will take place between 6pm and 8pm tonight.

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Why is Boris Johnson facing a vote of confidence?

In 2019 Boris Johnson secured his party a landslide electoral win, clinching a parliamentary major and 43.6% of the popular vote – the highest vote share for any party since 1979. However that popularity has ebbed away as a series of scandals blighted his government, most recently ‘Partygate.’

Partygate refers to a series of social activities held in 10 Downing Street during the pandemic, while the United Kingdom was bound by strict social distancing laws, introduced by Johnson himself. There had been numerous reports of after-hours social events, excess drinking and rule breaking in the very heart of government, while Britons faced restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend funerals of loved ones.

Initially Johnson denied all accusations and attempted to claim that no laws had been broken. However that was soon found to be false and he and other top government officials were handed fixed penalty notices (fines for lockdown-breaking) from the Metropolitan Police.

The situation worsened when the long-awaited report by civil servant Sue Gray was published, describing “failures of leadership and judgment in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.”

In recent weeks Johnson’s popular has fallen so drastically that his arrival at a church service for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations last week was roundly booed by a crowd likely sympathetic to his party. It is thought that the clear show of dissatisfaction at St Paul’s Cathedral may have prompted some wavering MPs to submit a vote of no confidence against him.

How is the vote of no confidence triggered?

Although it is the turn in public opinion that appears to have brought about a challenge to Johnson’s leadership, the mechanism triggering a vote of no confidence is controlled by a select group in his own party.

Conservative MPs can submit letters of no confidence in the leader in the hope of bringing about a vote. Of the 359 Tory MPs currently sitting in the Commons, 54 had to do so to trigger this evening’s vote.

MP’s are not required to do so publically but in this instance many have chosen to make their opposition clear, with many opting to publish their letter in full.

Former minister Jesse Norman, currently the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, described Johnson’s response to the Partygate report “grotesque”, while criticising his “deeply questionable” policy priorities.


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