Boris Johnson has survived an attempt to dump him as prime minister – despite nearly 150 of his own MPs voting to remove him from office.
The PM won a confidence vote in his leadership by 211 to 148, meaning he managed to secure the support of more than half of his MPs.
However, the size of the rebellion against him is a major blow to Johnson’s authority and leaves him severely weakened.
It means the uncertainty which has surrounded his leadership in recent months is likely to continue, undermining Downing Street’s attempts to “draw a line” under the partygate affair.
One rebel told HuffPost UK after the vote: “That was a substantial vote against the prime minister, considerably more than Theresa May had against her. It’s up to him to decide what to do next.”
Another MP is more blunt about the PM’s future: “He’s fucked.”
The confidence vote was triggered after more than 54 Tory MPs sent in letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers.
Under the committee’s current rules, it means Johnson cannot be challenged again for at least another year.
Johnson insisted it was an “extremely good” result – despite a worse performance than Theresa May in her confidence vote in 2018.
“I think it’s an extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result which enables us to move on, to unite and to focus on delivery and that is exactly what we are going to do,” he told reporters in Downing Street.
He ruled out a snap election in order to gain a new mandate from the public, insisting he was focused on the public’s priorities.
The prime minister said: “I see no point in focusing on anything else and I’m certainly not interested in snap elections. What I’m interested in is delivering right now for the people of this country.”
On a dramatic day at Westminster, a steady stream of Tories publicly stated their support for the prime minister.
However, several Conservatives – including former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt – set out their reasons for not backing him.
The former foreign secretary tweeted that it was time for Tory MPs to change leader or face defeat at the next election – prompting a furious response from culture secretary Nadine Dorries.
In a further sign of Conservative disquiet, MP John Penrose quit as the prime minister’s anti-corruption tsar, accusing Johnson of breaking the ministerial code over partygate.
He later told BBC Radio Four’s World At One programme: “I’m afraid this feels like the end, or the beginning of the end.”
And former minister Jesse Norman wrote a devastating letter setting out why he believed it was time for the PM to go.
He said: “Neither the Conservative Party nor this country can afford to squander the next two years adrift and distracted by endless debate about you and your leadership.
“For you to prolong this charade by remaining in office not only insults the electorate, and the thousands of people who support, volunteer, represent and campaign for our party; it makes a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely. That is potentially catastrophic for this country.
“For these reasons, and with great sadness, I am withdrawing my support for you as leader.”
In a last-ditch plea for support, Johnson told a meeting of the 1922 committee that they would win the next election with him in charge.
He said: “Let us refuse to dance to the tune of the media, let us refuse to gratify our opponents by turning in on ourselves.
“Let’s show this country that we understand that this is a moment to unite and to serve and if we can do that then believe you me whatever they may say about me I will lead you to victory again and the winners will be the people of this country.”
But several Scottish Tory MPs, including the party’s leader north of the border, Douglas Ross, revealed that they had voted against Johnson, who is also minister for the union.
In defence of the PM after the vote, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, contended the result would be welcomed in war-torn Ukraine.
He told Sky News: “What do you think President Zelenskyy will be thinking tonight? He’ll be punching the air because he knows his great ally Boris Johnson will be prime minister tomorrow morning. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
In an extraordinary intervention on BBC’s Newsnight, Conservative MP Adam Holloway attacked the media’s portrayal of the partygate scandal – and accused the programme of altering Johnson’s image to make him “look like Hannibal Lecter”.
He said: “This programme I am on now showed pictures of him looking like Hannibal Lecter at the beginning. I can show you here. He has razor blades.
“Does that guy look like someone who has been given a birthday cake or someone who has been locked up for something at the Old Bailey?”