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Tory backbenchers skeptical of ministers’ attempts to defend Boris Johnson

More than 20 Cabinet ministers have publicly defended Johnson, but backbench MPs said much of the support appeared lukewarm. ...
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 12, 2022.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 12, 2022.

  • Tory MPs are skeptical of ministers' attempts to defend Boris Johnson over his latest party scandal.
  • Several ministers issued lukewarm tweets, hours after the prime minister apologised in the Commons.
  • It comes as speculation grows that Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are on maneuvers for a future leadership bid.

Conservative MPs have poured scorn on efforts by Cabinet ministers to support Boris Johnson, after the prime minister apologized for attending a lockdown-breaking "bring your own booze" party in his Downing Street garden.

Dozens of ministers publicly backed the prime minister on social media and news channels on Wednesday following his excruciating appearance in the Commons.

Johnson's future is under intense scrutiny as he awaits the results of an inquiry into the alleged parties, and several senior Tories including Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross have now called for his resignation.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak's decision to attend an event more than 220 miles away in Devon was noted by several backbenchers, as was his silence on the subject which lasted more than eight hours after the prime minister's statement. 

Eventually he said the prime minister was "right to apologise" and that he would await the results of an investigation into alleged parties at Downing Street.

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One former Conservative minister said it was "telling" that Sunak — who is tipped to be one of Johnson's successors as Conservative leader — had failed to sit by his side yesterday.

Another Tory MP, who is part of Johnson's government, told Insider that Sunak's tweet and failure to offer the prime minister full support appeared "prudent" given his rumoured leadership ambitions.

Other ministers' comments have elicited a similar response, with Stephen Barclay, Oliver Dowden and James Cleverly — respectively the Cabinet Office minister, Conservative Party chairman and Foreign Office minister – all tweeting virtually identical statements within a short period of each other.

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary and long-time Johnson ally, was more fulsome in her support – provoking some derision. One MP said it was a "sign of how bad things are."

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, quote-tweeted his colleague with just a pointing finger emoji. "Hardly an endorsement," a backbencher said.

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However Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, looked to play down suggestions she is angling for the top job, sitting next to her boss during the challenging PMQs session and tweeting that she stands "behind the prime minister 100%".

Johnson on Thursday canceled a scheduled visit to a vaccination centre after a family member tested positive for coronavirus, The Guardian reported. where he would have faced extensive questioning from reporters about the party he attended.

On Wednesday Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservatives leader, called for the prime minister to step down, telling the BBC: "I don't think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives." 

Other senior Conservatives who called for Johnson's resignation on Wednesday included Caroline Nokes, the former Home Office minister, who told ITV that the prime minister was a "liability" who was "dragging the party down."

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