Tories turned up the heat on ‘chaotic and disrespectful’ Boris Johnson today following a major rebellion on social care and anger at his shambolic speech to business chiefs.
The PM has gathered his Cabinet as simmering unrest in the party threatens to boil over, after 19 MPs fired another warning shot by voting against watering down the cap on care costs.
The government’s plan still went through due to its huge majority – but alarm bells are sounding in Downing Street after dozens abstained and the margin was slashed from around 80 in theory to just 26.
The blow came after Mr Johnson put on a chaotic performance at the CBI conference, with the hall left in awkward silence for more than 20 seconds after he lost his thread, before he went on an extended tangent about children’s cartoon character Peppa Pig.
The bewildering scenes – hot on the heels of the debacle over sleaze triggered by Mr Johnson’s abortive bid to save ally Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying – have sparked a wave of vicious briefing.
One former minister told MailOnline that No10 is ‘run by teenagers’ who cannot get the ‘disorganised’ premier into line.
A Tory MP told the FT that ‘Bojo has lost his mojo’, and even Downing Street insiders reportedly laid into the premier, with one quoted in the Times saying there had been ‘stumble after stumble’ and ‘people are sharpening their knives’.
A senior Downing Street source told the BBC: ‘There is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM … it’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes.’
The premier’s chief of staff Dan Rosenfeld has come in for particular criticism for failing to control his errant tendencies, with MPs saying he is ‘not up to the job’ and a Tory aide dismissing him as ‘f****** awful’.
Baroness Ruth Davidson, former Scottish Conservative leader, branded the CBI speech ‘disrespectful’. ‘British business deserves more than chaotic and unprepared boosterism. It needs to know government understands the current huge challenges and will help,’ she tweeted.
Tory insiders have pointed the finger squarely at Rishi Sunak’s allies for the briefing, with one saying tensions have resurfaced and No11 is ‘pushing hard’ to undermine Mr Johnson. ‘It is Rishi’s people, 100 per cent,’ they told MailOnline. ‘They’re too far apart intellectually.’
Although the PM does not seem under imminent threat, the situation appears to be becoming more serious by the day.
He came under fire on another front last night when a Cabinet minister publicly joined a push for taxes to be cut, after the burden rose to the highest level in peacetime.
In a rare public intervention on domestic policy, former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost said low taxes were ‘the formula for success as a country’. He also said the UK must move away from EU rules so Britain can ‘step up and compete at a global level’.
After ‘shambolic’ speech to businesses, No10 sources voice ‘concern’ – then Brexit chief weighs in on tax cuts
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and deputy PM Dominic Raab were among those at the Cabinet meeting this morning
Chief whip Mark Spencer was at Cabinet today – and has been accused of playing a key role in recent missteps
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in Downing Street today
Pictures have emerged of Boris Johnson with wife Carrie and son Wilf at Peppa Pig World on Sunday
The Johnson family seemed to be enjoying themselves on their trip to the theme park on Sunday
Mr Johnson extolled the virtues of Peppa Pig in his speech to the CBI after the visit on Sunday
Senior Conservative MPs warned they would not back the new policy to cap care costs in England, which critics argued had been made far less generous.
Ministers were unable to say whether the change to the £86,000 cap on care costs would fulfil an election pledge to guarantee no-one would have to sell their home to pay for care.
Conservative critics joined experts and Labour MPs in warning the move to count only individual payments towards the cap, and not local authority contributions, would cost poorer recipients more in assets than the wealthy.
Mr Johnson himself went into bat for the plans, describing them as ‘incredibly generous’ and ‘much better than the existing system’ during his CBI speech.
But the Government only narrowly avoided defeat in the Commons with MPs backing the amendment 272 votes to 246, a majority of 26.
Conservatives including former Cabinet minister Esther McVey and ex-chief whip Mark Harper rebelled.
Senior Conservative William Wragg and NHS doctor Dan Poulter were also among the Tories to vote against the change, as were Christian Wakeford and Mark Jenkinson, two MPs who seized former Labour strongholds in the north for the Tories.
Another 68 Tories did not vote for them, with around 30 of those thought to ‘actively’ abstained without permission from the whips.
Mr Johnson had been attempting to mend fences with big business during his CBI speech, following clashes over Brexit.
One former minister told MailOnline the situation would not blow over and there had been a ‘very serious sequence of events’. ‘The problem is the centre. It is staffed by adolescents. He doesn’t have anyone of experience or clout advising,’ the MP said. ‘They are all extremely young, inexperienced and they are not giving good advice.’
The Tory bemoaned that Mr Johnson is ‘not good at the detail or organisation’, and pointed to Margaret Thatcher’s famous ally during the 1980s.
‘What he actually needs is a Willie Whitelaw figure. The nearest he had to that was Eddie Lister, but he’s gone,’ they said. ‘He did extremely well as Mayor of London because he delegated to good people.
‘It is pretty glaring…. There is nobody doing the horizon scanning and making sure there are no elephant traps.’
They said: ‘Somebody should have sat down with him and gone through that speech, made sure that it was properly presented and on the right sheets of paper. There should have been an autocue there, he should have gone through it a few times.
‘It had all the hallmarks of somebody who had been handed the speech five minutes before he went on the platform. The fact that you have written something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practise.’
The ex-minister also complained that Carrie’s influence on the No10 machine was still a problem, but added: ‘One can suggest maybe he can dispense with some members of staff. You can’t advise him to dispense with his wife.’
The MP said election guru Lynton Crosby, who masterminded Mr Johnson’s mayoral campaigns, was the ‘most obvious’ option to sort out the mess in No10. ‘He needs someone who can put a bit of organisation into the organisation.’
But another Tory aide said Sir Lynton would not take up the mantle. ‘He needs Lynton, but he’s not going to do it. He’s tough enough and he can overrule everyone.’
They added of Mr Johnson: ‘He needs good people around him. But he’s got away with bluffing it for so long he thinks he can keep doing it.’
Another Conservative veteran sounded similarly despondent about the prospects of the situation improving. ‘There’s just no one that can manage him,’ they said.
They slammed Dan
Another source told the Times: ‘People are sharpening their knives. The operation should be spotting those things and heading them off.’
No 10 declined to comment on the gripes. But a Government insider dismissed the idea that there was concern among close aides as ‘total nonsense’, adding: ‘That is absolutely not the feeling in the building – it couldn’t be more wrong.’
Some MPs believe that the briefing is coming out of the Treasury and represents a renewal of festering tensions between the PM and Rishi Sunak.
In a rare public intervention on domestic policy, former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, pictured said low taxes were ‘the formula for success as a country’
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who stood against Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership, warned it had not been a ‘good month’.
told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘What I would say is the last month has not been a good month for the Government.
‘But in the end the thing that will count when we next face the electorate is whether the things that we have promised to help ordinary people are actually happening.’
Mr Hunt pointed to the success of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign and the relative health of the economy as reasons for the Tories to stay positive despite the setbacks of the past few weeks.
‘There are some things that are making a real difference,’ he said.
A source told the Daily Mail that the Prime Minister’s long pause, in which he shuffled through the pages of his address, had occurred because he had been accidentally handed a copy of the speech in the wrong order.
But pressure later ramped up even further on Mr Johnson as his close ally Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost gave a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies.
At last month’s Budget, the Prime Minister had overruled Chancellor Rishi Sunak, insisting public spending should be raised despite the poor state of the public finances.
At the time, the Chancellor set out an ambition to cut taxes by the next election.
And last night Lord Frost told the centre-Right think-tank: ‘We know what the formula for success as a country is: it’s low taxes. I agree with the Chancellor as he said in his Budget speech – our goal must be to reduce taxes.
It’s about light-touch and proportionate regulation, whatever the policy objectives you’re trying to pursue. And of course free trade.
‘Increasing consumer choice while reducing consumer costs. Ensuring competition stops complacency – keeping our economy fit and responsive to innovation and progress abroad.’
Boris Johnson was seen enjoying a day at Peppa Pig World theme park with his one-year-old son
Lord Frost also spoke of the importance of the UK forging its own path post-Brexit. He said: ‘We haven’t successfully rolled back the frontiers of the EU with Brexit, only to import the European model after all this time.
‘So we need to reform fast and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU. If we stick to EU models, but behind our own tariff wall and with a smaller market, obviously we are not going to succeed.’
Mr Johnson had told the CBI conference: ‘I have never been anything other than business’s number one fan… the true driver of growth is not Government, it is the energy and dynamism and originality of the private sector.’
He said it was time for Government to ‘get out of your hair’, adding that ministers should ‘make sure there is less regulation and indeed less taxation’.
He then hailed the global success of Peppa Pig, telling business leaders the children’s cartoon was a great example of British creativity.
Delegates were left bemused as the Prime Minister asked them to raise their hands if they had visited Peppa Pig World, in the New Forest.
Peppa Pig World is in Paultons Park located in Romsey, Hampshire
Mr Johnson told the audience of business leaders in Newcastle he had visited the attraction with his wife Carrie and son Wilfred on Sunday, hailing it as ‘my kind of place’.
‘It has safe streets, discipline in schools, a heavy emphasis on new mass transit systems,’ he said. ‘Even if they are a bit stereotypical about Daddy Pig.’
The PM said the hit show, which has been a huge export, showed ‘the power of UK creativity’ and entrepreneurship.
Mr Johnson’s former adviser Guto Harri said the references were an effective way of making a point about the value of the creative industries, adding: ‘It was classic Boris.’
Asked by ITV after the speech if ‘everything was OK’, the Prime Minister said: ‘I think that people got the vast majority of the points that I wanted to make and I thought it went over well.’