Efforts to save Boris Johnson’s premiership dubbed “Operation: Save Big Dog” have quickly turned into “Operation Dog’s Dinner”, according to the SNP’s Westminster leader.
Ian Blackford’s turn of phrase was in reference to reports that a concerted campaign has been mounted to save Boris Johnson from censure following the so-called ‘partygate’ scandal, which saw a number of social events held in Downing Street during lockdown.
A series of gatherings in No 10 and Whitehall are being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray, and Tory MPs are being urged by ministers to wait for her report before deciding whether to move against the Prime Minister.
When the PM’s official spokesman was asked whether Johnson was referred to by staff as “big dog”, he said: “I’ve never heard that term used.”
But Blackford told the Commons: “This week was supposed to be ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ but it’s quickly become ‘Operation Dog’s Dinner’. When will the Tory MPs finally do the right thing, show the Prime Minister the door.
“I’m afraid nobody is buying this act any more, there ought to be some respect and dignity from the Prime Minister. Let’s remind ourselves more than 150,000 of our citizens died and he’s partying, he’s laughing. It simply isn’t acceptable.
“The fake contrition, the endless excuses, the empty promises that it’ll be different only if we give him one last chance. This is a Prime Minister who arrogantly believes that he’s above the rules, a Prime Minister who brazenly twists the truth, a Prime Minister who simply isn’t fit for office.”
Reports have suggested the threshold of 54 letters from MPs that would launch a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister could be reached on Wednesday.
So far, seven Tory MPs have publicly called for Johnson to go, far short of the 54 required to submit letters of no-confidence to the backbench 1922 Committee – but privately, many more believe the Prime Minister’s time is up.
Andrew Bridgen, one of the seven, said he expected 20 more letters to go into 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady from 2019-intake MPs on Wednesday.
And Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis was among those who called for Johnson to resign at PMQs.
He said: “Like many on these benches I have spent weeks and months defending the Prime Minister against often angry constituents – reminded them of his success in delivering Brexit and the vaccine and many other things.
“But I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday, he did the opposite of that so I’ll remind him of a quotation altogether too familiar to him of (late Tory politician) Leo Amery to (former prime minister) Neville Chamberlain: ‘You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.'”
Johnson replied: “What I can tell him – I don’t know what quotation he is alluding to – what I can tell him is and I think have told this House repeatedly, I take full responsibility for everything done in this Government and throughout the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said the Conservatives in Scotland are doing “an excellent job” after he was asked if he agrees with Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg that Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross is a “lightweight”.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock asked at Prime Minister’s Questions: “Does the Prime Minister agree with the leader of the House that the leader of Scottish Conservatives is a lightweight?”
The Prime Minister replied: “The Conservative approach to the union is one that I think is right for our country. We want to keep it together and I think Conservatives in Scotland do an excellent job.”
Analysis by Colin Mackay:
Most people watch the start of Prime Minister’s Questions to see the exchanges with the Leader of the Opposition. In Scotland some will stay with it to see what the SNP’s Westminster leader asks. But today the main event was at the end.
PMQs began with a defection. Christian Wakeford was elected Conservative MP for Bury South in 2019, part of the Red Wall which saw traditional Labour seats in the North of England switch to the Conservatives. Bad news for the Prime Minister, but on the up side it means one fewer letter of no confidence going in to the backbench 1922 Committee of Tory MPs.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was very pleased with his new recruit, and pretty pleased with some of his lines ridiculing Boris Johnson’s defence. After looking dejected yesterday during a TV interview, the Prime Minister had perked up and was putting up a fight; “the Conservative Party won Bury South under this Prime Minister and we will win again, at the next election, under this Prime Minister” . He went on to dismiss Ian Blackford’s questions with a sing-song voice.
The Prime Minister seemed surprisingly buoyant, until former Brexit Secretary David Davis, said: “You’ve sat there too long, for all the good you have done, in the name of God go”.
This was the kind of damage the opposition could only dream of inflicting, and it was delivered by a Conservative grandee. David Davis can’t be dismissed by Jacob Rees-Mogg as a lightweight. This shows the real depth of the damage party-gate has done to the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson said twice today the report into that is not expected until next week. Whether his own MPs let him last that long is unclear.