Boris Johnson attempts to quell backbench Tory revolt with help of his Praetorian Guard

·3-min read
Nadine Dorries and Michael Fabricant, who are helping Boris Johnson behind the scenes by talking to disaffected MPs
Nadine Dorries and Michael Fabricant, who are helping Boris Johnson behind the scenes by talking to disaffected MPs

They are the trusted lieutenants whose promotion to government ranks rewarded years of loyalty and friendship to Boris Johnson.

Now, senior figures such as Nigel Adams, the Cabinet Office minister and Conor Burns, the Northern Ireland minister, are part of an expanded whipping operation attempting to help quell the backbench revolt against the Prime Minister and act as his Praetorian Guard.

Joining Mr Adams and Mr Burns in an operation run out of the Commons office of Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip, is Chris Pincher, a former deputy chief whip, and Leo Docherty, the relatively recently elected defence minister, who joined the Commons in 2017 and is helping to mollify newer MPs.

Some MPs and junior members of the Government approached by the ministers have been explicitly asked what changes Mr Johnson could make to persuade them to step back from attempting to topple the Prime Minister - with demands ranging from an overhaul of the Prime Minister's Downing Street operation, to a reversal of controversial policies such as the planned National Insurance increase. Mr Adams was seen doing the rounds in Parliament flanked by Ben Gascoigne, one of Mr Johnson's most trusted aides.

One of those targeted by the team of loyalists said that Mr Johnson appeared to have "put in an overlapping whips operation to make up for weaknesses in the current one."

Boris Johnson, pictured in 2018, who is fighting to keep the top job - Pasco
Boris Johnson, pictured in 2018, who is fighting to keep the top job - Pasco

Another source insisted that the loyalists were working hand in hand with Mr Spencer.

However, members of the 2019 intake of MPs are furious at a heavy-handed response by government whips to reports that emerged early last week of junior backbenchers plotting to submit letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee. Several are discussing whether to demand Mr Spencer's sacking in exchange for a temporary moratorium on submitting letters.

"The whips went on the rampage and really laid into people," said one 2019 MP. "They started randomly picking on people and it has massively backfired."

But a loyalist MP said: "We've had a month of briefing that the whips office is ineffective and now we appear to be having briefing that the whips' office is too effective."

Mr Pincher, Mr Adams, Mr Burns and Mr Docherty appear to be helping to "fix" the broken relationships. They join a series of Cabinet ministers, led by Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, who are helping behind the scenes to talk to disaffected MPs, together with Andrew Griffith and Sarah Dines, Mr Johnson's two parliamentary private secretaries, who sit behind him every week during Prime Minister's Questions.

The PM's loyal supporters

Providing social media firepower - of questionable assistance to Mr Johnson - is Michael Fabricant, the somewhat eccentric MP for Lichfield who responded to claims of bullying and blackmail by Tory whips by tweeting: "If I reported every time I had been threatened by a whip or if a whip reported every time I had threatened them, the police wouldn’t have any time to conduct any other police work." He added: "Why do I defend Boris? Well, apart from the fact I like him, I believe he’s a winner and made the right calls on Covid. Any Government would find it tough to win an election after 14 years in power. Sensible and dull just won’t cut it."

Mr Pincher, Mr Adams and Mr Burns are all longtime allies of Mr Johnson, while Mr Docherty, a former Army officer, only joined the Commons in 2017.

"Everybody knows that Nigel and Conor are staunch loyalists of Boris," said one Tory source. However they don't have the reach into the newer intakes. I have a lot of time for Leo. He is straight talking and honest."

In the Commons during Wednesday's Prime Minister's questions, Mr Burns sat directly behind Mr Johnson, nodding vigorously each time Mr Johnson spoke, and appearing to encourage colleagues around him to do the same.

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