‘Covid husbands’ swell the ranks of Tory rebels seeking to force Boris out of No10: Former minister, PM’s anti-corruption tsar and long-time rival Jeremy Hunt all call for Johnson to go
- Two Tory MPs dubbed the ‘Covid husbands’ join the ranks of rebel Conservatives
- The wives of Jesse Norman and John Penrose wives held key pandemic roles
- Long-time rival Jeremy Hunt also urges Tory MPs to get rid of Boris Johnson
Two Tory MPs dubbed the ‘Covid husbands’ today joined the ranks of rebel Conservatives seeking to force Boris Johnson out of Number 10.
Ex-minister Jesse Norman penned an excoriating letter to the Prime Minister this morning in which he accused Mr Johnson’s Government of lacking ‘a sense of mission’.
He was later joined in the rebel ranks by John Penrose, who quit as the PM’s anti-corruption tsar and told Mr Johnson ‘it’s over’ for his premiership.
The pair are known as the ‘Covid husbands’ due to the high-profile roles their wives held during the Coronavirus crisis.
Mr Norman’s wife, Kate Bingham, was chair of the Government’s vaccine taskforce that oversaw the purchase of millions of Covid jabs.
Mr Penrose’s wife, Dido Harding, was the beleagured head of the £37billion NHS Test and Trace programme.
Her role has been much-criticised by MPs, who found the flagship programme failed to achieve ‘its main objective’ to cut Covid infection levels.
Mr Norman and Mr Penrose were soon joined in their public agitation against Mr Johnson today by the PM’s long-time rival Jeremy Hunt.
The ex-health secretary declared he would be ‘voting for change’ when Tory MPs hold a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership tonight.
Jesse Norman (left) and John Penrose are known as the ‘Covid husbands’ due to the high-profile roles their wives held during the Coronavirus crisis
Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly failed to rule out another leadership challenge in a string of media appearances in recent weeks
Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby, also joined the revolt against Mr Johnson’s leadership as he revealed he would not be supporting the PM tonight
Mr Hunt, who also previously served as foreign secretary, was beaten by Mr Johnson to the Tory leadership in 2019 when party members elected a successor to Theresa May.
He has repeatedly failed to rule out another leadership challenge in a string of media appearances in recent weeks.
Mr Hunt characterised tonight’s vote as a choice between ‘change or lose’ for Tory MPs.
‘Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country.
‘And because we are no longer trusted by the electorate, who know this too, we are set to lose the next general election.
‘Anyone who believes our country is stronger, fairer & more prosperous when led by Conservatives should reflect that the consequence of not changing will be to hand the country to others who do not share those values.’
Earlier, in his letter to the PM, Mr Norman blasted Mr Johnson for a ‘grotesque’ claim he had been ‘vindicated’ by Sue Gray’s report into Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street.
He also criticised the PM for seeking to unilaterally set aside the Northern Ireland Protocol, over the ‘ugly’ scheme for deporting migrants to Rwanda, and for the ‘provocative’ privatisation of Channel 4.
Mr Norman, a former Treasury minister, told the PM: ‘You are simply seeking to campaign, to keep changing the subject and to create political and cultural dividing lines mainly for your advantage, at a time when the economy is struggling, inflation is soaring and growth is anaemic at best.’
Mr Penrose announced his resignation as the PM’s anti-corruption tsar as he accused Mr Johnson of breaching ministerial rules on the grounds he had failed to provide adequate leadership over Partygate.
Speaking later to Sky News, the ex-Northern Ireland minister claimed it was ‘the beginning of the end’ for Mr Johnson as PM.
‘I think it’s over, it feels now like a question of when not if,’ he said.
‘But, we will have to wait and see what the result is. If he has a thumping victory this evening then that might be different.
‘But, at the moment in so far as anyone can tell, it feels like the beginning of the end.’
Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby, also joined the revolt against Mr Johnson’s leadership today as he revealed he would not be supporting the PM tonight.
He posted on Twitter: ‘The country has reason to be grateful to Boris Johnson for getting Brexit done after a period of uncertainty and for securing a successful vaccine programme in the face of the pandemic.
‘However, I waited for the Sue Gray report & was disappointed to read its contents. I have concluded that it is now time for a different kind of leadership and a new team.’
Despite the ranks of Tory rebels growing, a stream of Boris-backing MPs offered their support for the PM on social media and declared they would be voting for him tonight
Mr Hunt characterised tonight’s confidence vote in the PM’s leadership as a choice between ‘change or lose’ for Tory MPs
The last few weeks have seen a string of disgruntled Conservative backbenchers withdraw their support for the PM and call for him to quit.
There have also been a number of Tory MPs who have criticised Mr Johnson over the Partygate scandal, but stopped short of publicly demanding the PM’s resignation.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory MPs Douglas Ross and Neil Hudson have both insisted Mr Johnson should go – but not while the war in Ukraine continue.
There was a furious pushback against the Tory rebels today after the announcement of tonight’s confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
A stream of MPs offered their support for the PM on social media and declared they would be backing him at the crunch vote.
They included members of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries also laying into Mr Hunt.
In a series of angry Twitter posts, she told Mr Hunt – if he had been Tory leader at the 2019 general election – he would have ‘handed the keys of No10’ to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
She also claimed his handling of the Covid pandemic ‘would have been a disaster’, adding: ‘You’ve been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now.’
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