Boris Johnson rips up his diary to woo wavering MPs with plan to meet backbenchers in bid to head off leadership challenge
- Inquiry into ‘Partygate’ row by ethics chief Sue Gray to be published next week
- PM to meet with concerned MPs one to one while others will be in small groups
- PM to urge MPs to ‘look at the bigger picture’, including recent Covid successes
Boris Johnson will hold a series of intensive meetings with Tory MPs this weekend in an attempt to head off the threat of a leadership challenge.
Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication next week of the official inquiry into the ‘Partygate’ row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray.
Some MPs will be seen one to one while others will be asked to discuss their concerns with the PM in small groups.
Sources believe similar meetings earlier this week helped to defuse the threat of the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ coup by Red Wall MPs.
Mr Johnson will urge MPs to ‘look at the bigger picture’, most notably the success of his strategy for dealing with the emergence of the Omicron strain, which is seeing the UK emerge from Covid restrictions faster than other European countries.
But one senior Tory said the earlier sessions were not a complete success, with the PM unwilling to guarantee no more damaging revelations will come out.
Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication next week of the official inquiry into the ‘Partygate’ row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray (Pictured: The PM at PMQs on Wednesday)
The source said Mr Johnson had pleaded with Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, to retract a letter of no confidence sent to Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady, only for Mr Anderson to refuse.
The source added that the PM became ‘very emotional’ during the meeting – a version of events denied by No 10.
Mr Anderson, a former Labour councillor, declined to say yesterday whether he had submitted a letter or turned down a request from the PM.
But another Tory MP said reports claiming rebels were withdrawing their letters were ‘bull****’.
Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, identified by Tory whips as a ringleader of the Pork Pie Plot, denied this yesterday – but did not voice support for Mr Johnson.
She told the Northern Echo newspaper: ‘I am incredibly angry about the Downing Street parties and the Prime Minister’s response.
‘It will be for the Prime Minister himself, or the Conservative Party collectively, to decide the Prime Minister’s future.
‘Of course, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues about this, as is the case with every political development, be it policy-based or otherwise, but to suggest I’m leading a coup is bonkers.’
Mr Johnson refused to comment on the plotting against him yesterday during a brief question and answer session with journalists while on a visit to a health centre in Taunton, Somerset.
The official inquiry into Partygate, led by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray (pictured) is expected to be published next week
He said his ‘No 1 priority’ was ‘looking at the state of our country as we come out of Covid’, adding: ‘We hope that we’re now on a route map back to complete normality.’
Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed yesterday that Miss Gray was already uncovering emails showing he was telling the truth about the parties and No 10 was ‘lying’.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged MPs and the public to wait for the publication of the report.
He said people were ‘right to be angry’ over the allegations of lockdown-busting events at No 10, but added that he believed the PM was safe in his job.
However, Brexiteer Steve Baker, who helped engineer Theresa May’s downfall, said the situation ‘does look like checkmate’ for Mr Johnson.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a frontrunner for Mr Johnson’s job should the PM be forced out, refused to be drawn on the subject during a visit to Stoke, insisting he and the Government were focused on delivering their ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
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