The Prime Minister spent several hours today meeting with wavering MPs in his office as he tried to see off potential backlash to the publication of Sue Gray’s party inquiry.
It is understood that Boris Johnson invited a number of Tory MPs to his Parliamentary office today who were wavering in their support of their leader, including several less rebellious MPs that may seem “surprising”.
MPs have apparently been in and out of his office all day, and that those invited are a “real mixture” of the Tory cohort, sources told PoliticsHome.
They said Johnson met with 2019-intake MPs this morning, before meeting with other rebel MPs across the afternoon and into the evening.
Since last week, allies of the Prime Minister have been conducting a shadow operation to drum up support among backbench MPs and hear their concerns about the current government, as first reported by The Times.
Former whips Chris Heaton-Harris, Nigel Adams and Chris Pincher are said to be leading the charge, with help from ministers including Conor Burns and several Parliamentary Private Secretaries including Jonathan Gullis.
The operation is said to be collating feedback from MPs, as well as phoning around colleagues over the weekend to understand their position on Johnson’s premiership.
“What’s happened is that some middling, senior — and an awful lot of junior members — are rallying to the Prime Minister’s banner and trying to make sure that he gets through this, so that we can carry on and do what we were elected to do,” a Tory MP told PoliticsHome.
They denied, however, that this was an indication that the relationship between MPs and the government whips had broken down. This was seconded by another MP, who claimed that the operation was about collecting feedback from the party, while the whips’ jobs was to get legislation through Parliament.
A source close to the loyalist whipping operation said that many backbenchers felt “pretty tired” following the recent controversies facing the government.
“Most are looking for subtle opportunities to get behind the PM without frustrating constituents, but are feeling let down by the constant leaks coming from all angles,” they said.
Boris Johnson is said to be meeting wavering MPs in his office until 6pm, a source tells me
Apparently some of those going into the room are “surprising”… more than just the typical rebels and outspoken 2019-intake MPs
“The majority though are probably starting to think that they don’t want to tie themselves to a sinking ship, and are hanging all hope on Sue Gray’s report being a damp squib, which is looking more and more unlikely.”
Another Westminster insider said: “The PM is trying to drum up support and he’s received some backing from MPs.
“However, MPs will now be wary of the Met investigation and potential findings that could make supporting the PM untenable.”
Tory MPs considered to be most likely to submit 1922 letters are among those being contacted by the endeavour, with the former whips reportedly trying to woo them with implied promises of government jobs in the future.
“There has been lots of ‘the Prime Minister has always felt you have been overlooked’ and all the usual shit,” one MP who had been contacted said.
Efforts to shore up support for Johnson come as the government awaits the publication of Sue Gray’s much-anticipated report on several parties held at Downing Street and across Whitehall while coronavirus restrictions were in place.
It was announced on Tuesday morning that, having considered evidence gathered by Gray, that the Metropolitan Police would investigate the claims, despite previously stating that they would not retrospectively look into breaches of coronavirus regulations.
A Downing Street spokesperson initially suggested that this meant the report would be delayed, and that Gray would only be able to report back on matters that do not “relate to the work of the police”.
However, Whitehall sources have told The Times that Gray had cleared publication with the Met and intends to hand the report to Boris Johnson this week.
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