The Downing Street party scandal during the pandemic has ended up undermining the continuity in office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose excuses have not stopped the rebellion within his own party. This Monday, between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (one more hour in Spanish peninsular time), the Conservative Party will vote on a motion of internal censure in which the head of the Government must obtain the support of a simple majority (180) of deputies Tories to continue in his position. This vote of confidence comes two weeks after the report of the deputy secretary of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, Sue Gray, was published, in which she was asked for responsibilities for having personally consented to and participated in celebrations, some with more than 100 people, at the Primatura headquarters while the British remained confined by covid-19.
What is the procedure for this motion of internal censure?
The vote of confidence of the leader of the Conservative Party can be started in two ways. The first is at the request of the leader himself; the second, when at least 15% of the deputies of that political group claim it. In the current legislature, there are 54. To start the process, these parliamentarians have to send a letter expressing their desire to replace their leader, Sir Graham Brady, the deputy who since 2010 has chaired the so-called Conservative Committee of Private Members, better known as Committee 1922. The president of the Committee announced this Monday that quorum had been reached.
This system, which allows the leader to be removed based on an initiative within the formation, was adopted in 1998 by the then head of the opposition toryWilliam Hague.
Who makes up the 1922 Committee?
The committee brings together the so-called backbenchers (literally, back seat MPs), the majority of Conservative MPs who do not hold a seat in government, and are therefore seen as more independent and therefore more loyal to their constituents and their own political future than the party leader. In addition, the vote is secret.
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What happens if Johnson loses?
If Johnson loses this vote, he would no longer be the leader of his party and, as a consequence, would have to resign as prime minister. In the event that there was only one candidate to replace him, he would automatically become the new head of government, without the need to call new elections. If several applicants were presented, the deputies would vote in secret to gradually reduce the number of contenders: in each round the candidate with the fewest votes would fall out of the competition. The process would be repeated successively on Tuesdays and Thursdays, until only two remained. All members with more than three months’ seniority in the party would then have the last word and vote to choose the new Conservative leader and prime minister between these two final candidates proposed by the 1922 Committee.
Can this process end in new elections?
Yes, although it is unlikely. If the vote of confidence within the Conservative Party goes ahead but the party fails to form a new government within 14 days, Parliament would have to be dissolved, a step prior to calling elections.
What if he wins?
To get out of this vote, the British Prime Minister needs a simple majority in his favor; 180 Conservative MPs. A favorable vote would shield his leadership from the Tories for one year, in which new confidence motions would not be allowed.
Does a victory guarantee Johnson’s continuity?
On paper, yes, at least for a year. In practice, no, since a victory considered weak, less than 60% of the vote, would end Johnson’s already undermined credibility and could make his permanence in office unfeasible. The recent history of votes of confidence in the Conservative Party confirms that the British Prime Minister has little chance of remaining Prime Minister if he does not obtain solid support from his political group. Even the powerful Margaret Thatcher had to resign in 1990, eight days after winning the confidence vote. In 2018, Theresa May submitted her resignation six months after theoretically coming out of that same challenge. Both had obtained the support of a simple majority of their conservative co-religionists, but their Pyrrhic victories ended up forcing her downfall.