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LONDON — The Conservative MP Christian Wakeford has defected to the Labour Party as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson grapples with a mounting leadership crisis over claims of lockdown-breaching parties in government.
Wakeford, elected as a Tory for the previously Labour-held seat of Bury South in 2019, is the first direct defection from the Tories to Labour, or vice versa, for 14 years. His switch came as Johnson faced a stinging Commons attack from former Conservative Cabinet colleague David Davis.
The U.K. prime minister has been in a storm of criticism in recent weeks over the string of allegations about parties in government, including at 10 Downing Street itself, while the rest of the country was observing lockdown rules. Westminster is still waiting for an official investigation into the claims to report.
Wakeford is a well-known critic of Johnson’s leadership and recently revealed he had written a letter calling for a no-confidence vote in the PM.
He wrote in a letter to the prime minister: “I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative government that you lead are doing nothing to help the people of my constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.”
The damaging move — timed just before Johnson faced his weekly round of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons — came as fellow members of the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs plot to remove the embattled Tory leader from Downing Street.
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If 54 letters of no-confidence are sent to senior Conservative MP Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, Johnson faces a confidence vote. If a majority of Conservative MPs — 180 — then vote against Johnson, he will be removed from office.
Starmer offered a warm welcome to Wakeford as the Labour leader sparred with Johnson in the Commons. Wakeford had earlier crossed the floor of the house to sit behind Starmer on the opposition benches — to cheers from Labour MPs.
Referencing Johnson’s claim in an interview on Tuesday that nobody had told him a No.10 party was in breach of the rules, Starmer said: “Since the prime minister wrote the rules, why on earth does he think this new defense is going to work for him?”
Johnson reminded MPs the Conservatives won Bury South “for the first time in generations” under his leadership, and vowed: “We will win again in Bury South at the next election.”
He faced further embarrassment in the Commons chamber when party grandee David Davis, a former Cabinet colleague of Johnson’s and a one-time contender for the leadership, became the most senior Conservative MP to publicly call for the prime minister to go.
Davis said he had spent months defending the prime minister, but that Johnson had failed to shoulder responsibility for his actions.
Deploying a quote once used against pre-war British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlian in the 1940s, Davis told Johnson: “You have sat there too long. For all the good you have done … In the name of god, go.”
A veteran Tory backbencher on the party’s right insisted that most of his wing of the party continued to back Johnson.
Paraphrasing a Hilaire Belloc poem, the same MP added: “Always cling to the nurse for fear of something worse.”
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reported Tuesday that the meeting of rebellious 2019 intake MPs has been dubbed the “pork pie plot” — because it was hosted by the MP for Melton, Alicia Kearns, who represents an area famous for producing the traditional English meat pies.
The average age of the named plotters from the 2019 intake is just 34. A Tory MP told POLITICO’s London Playbook: “It’s hardly the men in gray suits, they’re not out of short trousers.”
This article was updated to include details of Wakeford’s defection. Annabelle Dickson and Eleni Courea contributed reporting.