They say a week in politics is a long time, and last week felt like a lifetime.
I have had many emails and social media comments over the past few days. Some angry and despairing about the fall of Boris Johnson; claiming plots, media witch-hunts and treachery. Others jubilant at the resignation of the Conservative Party leader, and anguished that it hadn’t come sooner. All in all, as with any events like this, there are things to be said on both sides and over the next few paragraphs I have set out what happened, what actions I took, why, and what happens next.
As always some will agree with my actions, others won’t. Since my election I have been open and honest about the decisions I have taken and why, and I see no reason why that should change now.
What happened? From my perspective.
The trigger for the unfolding of recent events was the then Deputy Chief Whip, Chris Pincher’s, by his own admission completely unacceptable drunken behaviour, and further allegations of groping, resulting in his resignation. These are to be answered by him and him alone, and I hope – as with all enquiries into suspected conduct of this kind – that due process will take place. Mr Pincher, rightly, had the whip removed (meaning he was suspended from the party) when the allegations came out and Number 10 told my colleagues and the media this had all been dealt with appropriately as an isolated incident.
On the morning of Monday the 4th, Minister Will Quince was briefed for the Ministerial media round and had been told categorically by Number 10 that this issue was dealt with. Yet in his subsequent resignation letter he states “regarding the briefings I received from No 10 ahead of Monday’s media round, which we now know to be inaccurate.”
Here lies the issue: Number 10 was briefing my colleagues that they had taken swift action – which they did – but also that this was the first time they had any knowledge of issues regarding Mr Pinchers behaviour, and therefore had no knowledge of any previous allegations. A letter from a previous Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Office proved this to be categorically untrue.
This revelation led to both the Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, independently tendering their resignations from the Prime Minister’s cabinet.
On Wednesday, Sajid Javid delivered a statement in the House of Commons, saying “It’s not fair on ministerial colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t stand up and don’t hold up. It’s not fair on my parliamentary colleagues who bear the brunt of constituents’ dismay in their inboxes.” He went on to say that it’s not fair on voters who rightly expect better standards from the party they supported.
A small but significant number of resignations from Ministers were submitted on the Wednesday morning. In previous times this would signal that a Prime Minister cannot continue, however Mr Johnson remained defiant. By mid-afternoon and after over a dozen resignations, it became clear that the Prime Minister would not step down despite having lost the confidence of the Parliamentary party. By the end of Wednesday the total number of resignations was over 40, and by Thursday morning it was more than 50 members of Government.
Boris Johnson, shortly after midday on Thursday, announced that he would tender his resignation as leader of the Conservative Party, and provide for an orderly transition for a new leader and Prime Minister.
What did I do?
At the start of last week (Monday) having heard the revelations about Mr Pincher, I shared my dismay through the usual channel: a private conversation with my Whip, explaining my concerns. Upon hearing of the actions taken by Number 10, I was pleased because at that point I believed it had been dealt with appropriately.
I then attended the Urgent Question last Tuesday answered by the Government about standards in public life. It was at this point that it became evident to me that the ‘line’ from Number 10 over the weekend and Monday had changed and was not congruent with the emerging evidence.
Following the resignations of the Health Secretary and Chancellor on Tuesday evening, I had many conversations with colleagues and Ministers to try to establish what had happened and why.
On Wednesday, it became clear after PMQs, the Liaison Committee hearing and further ministerial resignations that the Prime Minister was not going to step down.
I then spoke to Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, to inform him that I had lost confidence in Boris Johnson.
On the Thursday morning, after news had broken that the Prime Minister intended to resign, I issued a brief statement about my position.
Why didn’t I say anything public sooner?
There is a saying I first heard when I entered Parliament “do you want to be a player or a commentator?”. What this means is, it’s very easy to shout from the side-lines, but how effective is this? The media tend to revel in constant speculation. But in a rapidly changing situation such as this, I believe that effective change is brought about by those who keep a cool head.
As a backbench MP and having recently been made an Parliamentary Private Secretary (an unpaid junior role in Government) I only have a limited number of levers to pull: withdraw my support for Mr Johnson, resign my post or both.
I chose the former, why? Because this was the most effective way to make a change. I chose not to speak publicly on the Wednesday evening that I had spoken to Sir Brady because, even at the best of times, the media enjoy creating hysteria. We saw this throughout Brexit, the pandemic and the current war in Ukraine. And I do not want to give oxygen to this approach.
I am more than happy to justify my decisions to those who have elected me in a way that is meaningful and open. As a GP, I wouldn’t speculate during the diagnosis of a patient’s illness or condition without knowing the complete picture. Similarly, I want to ensure that my constituents, who have entrusted me to take decisions on our community’s behalf, know the full reasoning behind my thinking by releasing this detailed explanation rather than giving an ongoing commentary at the time.
Why didn’t you resign your position as a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS)?
I chose not to resign my role within the Home Office for a combination of two reasons: lack of impact and a sense of duty.
While politicians are renowned for their delusions of grandeur, I still have a sense of station. If, when a Secretary of State, the Chancellor and several Ministers resign and this doesn’t change the Prime Minister’s mind, I am under no illusion that my resignation after three weeks of being a PPS is going to bring the Government down!
Couple this with the reality of the fact that the Government and its work must continue. My role means I cover Immigration and have been acting as the conduit for ALL 650 MPs casework regarding passports and visa issues. There is a mountain of work still to be done, and hence I was appointed an additional team member to help deal with the demand.
While it would have been easy for me to tender my resignation, in actuality this would only further the disruption to families across the country who are trying to get their passports in time for much-needed summer holidays. I take my responsibility as a PPS seriously and will carry out this role until I am either promoted, sacked or moved sideways.
But hang on, didn’t you support Boris Johnson in the no confidence vote only one month ago?
Yes. I said in my statement that the revelations over ‘Partygate’ that my confidence at the time was shaken. But because of his work through Brexit, the vaccine rollout, and his world leading support for Ukraine, I did still have confidence in Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister. What I briefly referred to in my statement following the vote were the real, tangible changes I have seen over the last six months in the operation of Number 10. See my previous statement here: Statement from Dr Luke Evans MP on the vote regarding the Prime Minister | Dr Luke Evans MP
In her report Sue Gray talked about the structural changes that have occurred since reports emerged of the events during lockdown. I have seen these changes myself. During my first two years as an MP I would have struggled to tell you how to approach senior policy people in Number 10, but since bringing in Steve Barclay as Minister for the Cabinet Office alongside a raft of other appointments, the difference has been palpable. Daily.
I have been involved in more Number 10 policy meetings on issues and concerns within our area, mental health, online safety, the women’s health strategy, eating disorders and local planning reform than in the entire preceding two years put together. That is part of why I voted to have confidence.
However, the information which has emerged over the last 12 days has taken that confidence.
I had seen the fresh start and, I believed, I had witnessed a change. But, when senior ministerial colleagues are saying they are defending a line “that is known to be inaccurate”. This cannot stand. Which was why I chose, on Wednesday 6th of July, to make it known to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee that I no longer had confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
“This was a coordinated plot by the media and some MPs to bring down Boris Johnson.”
Since the 2019 General Election, I do believe the media have gone to great lengths to hound Boris. I also think it can be strongly argued that the attacks levelled at him have been unfair and disproportionate. There is no secret that the Opposition and many of the fiercest Remain activists were desperate to see Mr Johnson fail. This is in part for some because they dislike or disagree with him and his policies, for others they see his removal as an opportunity to reverse Brexit, and for the Opposition it is partly because (despite what they may say!) they saw Boris as an electoral threat in the future.
What I can say is that I have seen no evidence, whatsoever, within the Conservative Party over the last 12 days which suggests this was a co-ordinated effort to remove the Prime Minister. Of course there will be detractors in the party, but I genuinely believe this was an organic event during which many colleagues reached the same conclusion as me: the events in question could not, in good conscience, be left unresolved.
What happens now?
The Prime Minister will stay in post until my colleagues and the membership of the Conservative Party elect a replacement. This is organised by the 1922 Committee, which is holding elections for their Executive on Monday the 11th of July. This Committee will set out the rules of the leadership contest during which, through a series of run off votes, Conservative MPs whittle a list of candidates down to two. Finally, the last two candidates are voted on by members of the Conservative Party.
Some may ask, why can’t the Deputy Prime Minister take over? Under our constitutional system when a Prime Minister resigns they must go to the Queen, as our Head of State, and ask for her permission. The Queen would then appoint a successor, which has always been the leader of the Party with the largest number of elected MPs. Dominic Raab is not the leader of the Conservative Party, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Boris Johnson last year to assist with the administration of Government. Not all Prime Ministers choose to have a Deputy PM, the holder of the role typically serves as a short-term stand in should the PM not be available. For example, when Boris recently attended the G20 summit. The Deputy only serves while the PM who appointed them remains in post, the Deputy is not the automatic successor as leader of the Party.
At the time of writing, I have not yet decided who I will be supporting as the next leader. Instead, I have agreed to a private meeting with each candidate in which we shall discuss their vision going forward and how it will benefit our constituency and the nation.
There is much more that could be said on this matter but I’ll end here for now.
On one final and important note, I have been struck by the understanding shown when I’m out and about in our area regarding just how tough these circumstances are. I am so pleased to represent a community who care so much for one another, and for that I am truly and eternally grateful.