UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived a confidence vote by members of his own party – but the final count of lawmakers who rebelled against him was far higher than his supporters expected.
After a tidal wave of recent criticism – which included illegal, lockdown-breaking parties thrown in his Downing Street offices – Johnson squeaked by with 211 votes to 148 in a secret ballot on Monday.
The government hailed the result, with Johnson saying he thought “this is a very good result for politics and for the country.”
“I think it’s a convincing result, a decisive result, and what it means is that as a government we can move on and focus on the stuff that really matters to people,” Johnson said.
Yet his thin margin of victory means that 41% of his own parliamentary party refused to back Johnson, three years after he led the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in the last general election.
Voting began at 6 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) Monday after Johnson urged Conservative lawmakers to back him and reminded them that he had led the party to its biggest electoral win in 40 years, according to a letter he wrote seen by PA Media.
The large rebellion by his lawmakers will leave Johnson’s reputation diminished and could damage his ability to push through legislation. Disappointing results for the party in upcoming polls could also heap more pressure on Johnson, as Conservatives face two difficult parliamentary by-elections in late June.
Despite the victory, the opposition Labour Party has said that by hanging onto power this time, Johnson makes the prospect of an early election even more likely. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer predicted to LBC that Monday’s vote would mark “the beginning of the end” of the Prime Minister’s political career – no matter which way the vote went.
“If you look at the previous examples of no confidence votes, even when Conservative Prime Ministers survive those … the damage is already done,” the opposition leader told LBC Monday. “Usually, they fall reasonably swiftly afterwards.”
Following the vote, Starmer said Johnson was “utterly unfit for the great office he holds” and accused Conservative lawmakers of ignoring the British public. “The Conservative Government now believes that breaking the law is no impediment to making the law.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called Johnson an “utterly lame duck” on Twitter following the vote.
“That result is surely the worst of all worlds for the Tories. But much more importantly: at a time of huge challenge, it saddles the UK with an utterly lame duck PM,” Sturgeon said in a tweet on Monday night.
Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May was the last sitting British leader to face a no-confidence vote from their own party. May narrowly survived that vote, which had been called amid months of chaos over her doomed Brexit deal – but she ultimately resigned months later.
Monday’s vote was triggered after more than 54 lawmakers sent letters to the chair of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, following a tidal wave of criticism over a number of scandals that have engulfed Johnson’s premiership for several months.
Last month, a damning report by a senior civil servant found a culture of partying and socializing among Johnson’s staff during Covid-19 lockdown, while millions of Britons were banned from seeing their friends and relatives.
In photos: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The so-called Partygate scandal plunged his approval ratings and sparked a drumbeat of dissatisfaction among several of his backbenchers. But Johnson has also been criticized for his response to a cost-of-living crisis, and his party suffered heavy losses at local elections in May.
Under Conservative party rules – which can be changed at any time – a leader who survives a confidence vote is safe from such a challenge for 12 months.
But with only 58.6% of Conservative MPs backing Johnson on Monday, the Prime Minister suffered a worse result than his predecessor May, who had the support of 63% of her lawmakers in a much smaller parliamentary party when she faced a confidence vote in 2018.
Despite the worse performance, Johnson insisted it was an “extremely good” result, saying he was not interested in a snap election to gain a new mandate from the public.
CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Richard Green, Lauren Kent and Benjamin Brown contributed reporting.