HENRY DEEDES watches a failed plan to oust Boris Johnson

In each cloister, knots of plotters spoke in hushed tones… what snakes they are! HENRY DEEDES watches a failed plan to oust Boris Johnson

Seconds after 9pm, Sir Graham Brady announced that the Conservative Party did have faith in Boris Johnson’s leadership. Around the committee room, there were guttural cheers and a collective hammering on desks.

The Prime Minister had survived – just – but the result was still the stuff of sheet-tearing nightmares.

Some 148 of his own MPs wanted to see him out on his ear, against a mere 211 who supported him. Gulp – those numbers were worse than Theresa May’s in 2018, and she survived only another few months.

For the PM, a final media interview or two and then, no doubt, an appointment with the Downing Street drinks cabinet. After a gut-wrenching day like that, could you have blamed him?

It had all begun 12 hours earlier when Sir Graham stepped in front of the Commons just after 8am – and, after those joyous Jubilee celebrations, it felt like a very early 8am indeed.

That slippery weasel Tobias Ellwood (Con, Bournemouth E) seemed to be everywhere, lurking and scheming

After weeks of speculation, the balloon was finally up – the requisite 54 letters to trigger a vote had been received.

Sir Graham, who carries with him more than a slight whiff of self-importance, looked bleary-eyed. At first blush, one might have thought he wasn’t appreciating being thrust in front of the TV cameras so soon after such a lovely long weekend. But don’t you believe it. He was loving every second.

Having lain dormant for a week during the Jubilee festivities, Westminster was now all lights, camera, action! College Green had suddenly become a maze of electric cables and frantic media punditry. Would the PM go? How many votes would he get? What colour boxer shorts would he be wearing? Squawk, squawk, squawk.

Over on Downing Street, Larry the Cat scowled sulkily at the reporters disturbing his mid-morning snooze.

By midday, the entire Parliamentary estate was throbbing with intrigue and treachery. In each cloister, little knots of Tory MPs spoke in hushed tones to one another, checking over their shoulders as they plotted.

That slippery weasel Tobias Ellwood (Con, Bournemouth E) seemed to be everywhere, lurking and scheming.

Around the committee room, there were guttural cheers and a collective hammering on desks

Tory leadership: the runners and riders

Jeremy Hunt – 4/1

Ex-health and foreign secretary. Came second in leadership contest and seen by many as duplicitous

Tom Tugendhat – 4/1

Chairman of foreign affairs committee. The ex-soldier gained prominence in deploring Britain’s withdrawal from Kabul 

Liz Truss – 7/1

Foreign Secretary. Her threats to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol are popular in the party but she was a Remainer in 2016

Penny Mordaunt – 7/1 

Trade minister touted as a ‘unity’ candidate. Her judgment was questioned when she appeared on reality TV show Splash! 

Rishi Sunak – 15/2

Chancellor. The former frontrunner’s chances were hit by revelations of his wife’s non-dom status

Ben Wallace – 8/1

Defence Secretary. His profile has been boosted by his handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Nadhim Zahawi – 12/1

Education Secretary. Impressed many with the success of his vaccine rollout during the pandemic 

Cabinet ministers tweeted carefully co-ordinated messages of support. All-out civil war flared when Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries got into a terrific ding-dong with Jeremy Hunt who had announced it was ‘time for change’ (translation: ‘Time for me’). Dorries – who doesn’t pull her punches – battered the ambitious former health secretary, accusing him of ‘being wrong about nearly everything’.

Soon, Scott Benton (Con, Blackpool S) was accusing Mr Hunt of being from the ‘soft, wet left’ of the party.

Inside No 10, it was – sort of – business as usual, as the PM met with glamorous Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas, whose administration back home is also under threat.

The PM grinned awkwardly for the cameras, a model of faux gaiety, his mind visibly on other things.

At 4pm, a Press throng gathered at Portcullis House, where Boris was due to address his backbenchers inside the Boothroyd Room.

For possibly the first time in his career, he arrived bang on time. A menacing Dominic Raab, the Deputy PM, strode out in front of him like a Mafioso’s heavy. To the boss’s left was Sarah Dines (Con, Derbyshire Dales) who thrust a supportive arm around the Johnsonian waistband.

Behind those closed doors, he made his final plea for clemency – the speech to save his career. No jokes. No guff. This was Boris in ‘serious mode’.

For us waiting journos on the other side, every now and again odd rumbles of approval wafted from beneath the door. Avowed PM-critic, Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe), made the point of leaving early to inform us he’d been most impressed by the PM’s performance – but, of course, he still intended to knife him.

At 4.31pm, there came another long rumble before a door swung open and Boris appeared, a white tuft of hair faintly visible as he was swallowed up within a sea of sycophants.

Moments later, Theresa May came out beaming with unbridled bliss: She hadn’t looked this happy since she gave George Osborne the heave-ho. Later, Ma May arrived to cast her vote dressed in a ball gown: Make of that what you will.

The Prime Minister had survived – just – but the result was still the stuff of sheet-tearing nightmares

The parliamentary party gathered from 8.30pm to hear the PM’s fate. The count had taken an hour – why so long is a mystery.

After the stunning result, the PM’s supporters filed out looking shell-shocked. Party chairman, little Oliver Dowden, looked as though he’d just swallowed a goldfish, blinking and gulping furiously.

Some of those who voted against the PM such as John Penrose (Con, Weston-super-Mare) and Aaron Bell (Con, Newcastle-under-Lyme) loitered briefly in the corridor before disappearing into the chilly Westminster night.

What snakes they are. And what chaos they have now unleashed on their party – and their country.

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