Defection of former Tory MP has ‘calmed nerves’ of those jostling for PM to quit

Christian Wakeford said he refused to ‘defend the indefensible’ over alleged Covid rule breaches.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister’s Questions

The defection of a former Tory MP to Labour has “calmed nerves” of those jostling for Boris Johnson to resign, as a Cabinet minister insisted the Prime Minister was safe in his job for now.

Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy said Christian Wakeford (Bury South) announcing he was joining the Labour Party minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday had focused the minds of those becoming impatient with Mr Johnson.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the move had been “damaging”.

Mr Wakeford dramatically switched sides on Wednesday, refusing to “defend the indefensible” over alleged breaches of Covid rules.

But Mr Percy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s kind of made people a bit more relaxed, it’s calmed nerves.

“I think people have recognised that actually this constant navel-gazing and internal debating is only to the advantage of our political opponents.

“The Prime Minister is probably thanking Christian for what he did because it’s made a lot of people think again, think twice.”

Mr Johnson was under intense pressure over the partygate saga, but battled on after senior Tory David Davis demanded “in the name of God, go”.

Mr Javid said the PM is safe in his job for now.

Coronavirus – Wed Jan 19, 2022
Health Secretary Sajid Javid, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Henry Nicholls/PA)

“It is damaging, of course it is,” Mr Javid told Sky News.

And he told the Today programme the partygate scandal had been damaging to democracy.

But asked on BBC Breakfast if the Prime Minister was “safe in his job”, Mr Javid said: “Yes, I think he is.

“At the same time, people are right to be angered and pained about what they have seen and they have heard.

“I share that anger and pain.

“I think it is right that there is a proper investigation going on that will establish the facts and that the Prime Minister will come back to Parliament and properly respond.”

Mr Javid denied that the announcement on Wednesday of the lifting of Plan B Covid restrictions in England was about “saving the skin” of the Prime Minister.

“People would be wrong to think that,” he said, adding it was the view of the Government’s scientific advisers that the peak of the latest wave has been reached.

Mr Johnson was said to have been handed a fragile reprieve by some colleagues considering forcing a no- confidence vote until they hear the result of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into events in No 10 during restrictions.

He had been holding talks with backbench MPs to shore up support and prevent the 54 letters being sent to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservatives, that are required to trigger a vote of no confidence.

With Mr Wakeford facing anger from former colleagues on the Tory benches, some suspected he had temporarily galvanised support for Mr Johnson ahead of Ms Gray’s report, which is now expected next week.

“The way we now get through this is to get the facts out, get them on the table so we can all reach a judgment ourselves,” Mr Javid said.

“The Prime Minister, he has said himself he has taken already full responsibility for anything that’s happened in Downing Street and he will come to Parliament once the report is published and answer any question that is put to him and that is the right way forward.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson (left), then Foreign Secretary and now Prime Minister, and David Davis who has urged Boris Johnson to resign (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But he made clear that, if Mr Johnson was found to have broken the law, he would have to go.

“The Ministerial Code is very clear.

“If any minister from the Prime Minister down breaks the law, of course they shouldn’t continue to serve as a minister,” he said.

“What I have just said is a general rule that applies to everyone.

“There is no exception to that rule.”

The PM has insisted “nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules” and he believed he was attending a work event when he went to a “bring your own booze” gathering in Downing Street on May 20, 2020.

But former aide Dominic Cummings alleged Mr Johnson was aware of the event in advance and was warned it broke the rules in place at the time.

The May 20 event is one of many subject to Ms Gray’s inquiry, and Tory MPs were urged by ministers to wait for her report before deciding whether to move against the Prime Minister.

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