Boris Johnson faces Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons amid Tory criticism of his leadership following a series of blows to his authority.
Cabinet minister Dominic Raab insisted the Prime Minister “is on great form” and dismissed “Westminster tittle tattle” about his position, as the fallout continued from Mr Johnson’s chaotic speech at the Confederation of British Industry conference and a backbench revolt over social care.
Downing Street was forced to insist that the Prime Minister was physically “well” and “focused on delivering for the public” following questions about his speech on Monday which saw him lose his place in his notes, impersonate a car and talk about a visit to Peppa Pig World.
Justice Secretary Mr Raab said: “The Prime Minister is on great form. The reality is people speak about speeches in the Westminster village, the gossip and all the rest of it.”
Rumours have swirled about strained relations between Mr Johnson’s No 10 and Rishi Sunak’s No 11 since a “senior Downing Street source” told the BBC “there is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM” and “it’s just not working”.
Allies of Mr Sunak denied the Treasury was involved in the briefing.
The anonymous source of the incendiary briefing to the BBC has been dubbed the “Chatty Pig” in Westminster, as the comments emerged following the Prime Minister’s CBI speech.
Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast: “It’s the job of Westminster commentators to pick up on one anonymous source from wherever they found it to criticise the Government of the day, that’s fine.”
He said Mr Johnson was “focused on the job at hand”, adding: “The Prime Minister is an ebullient, bouncy, optimistic, Tiggerish character and he livens up his speeches in a way that few politicians past and present have done, but actually there is a steeliness to him as a Prime Minister and indeed his team, and we work as a team.”
One Tory MP told the PA news agency Mr Johnson was “losing the confidence” of his backbenchers and should quit in the new year, the relatively poor attendance at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions as a sign of his waning popularity.
The MP would not say whether he had submitted a letter to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers calling for Mr Johnson to quit.
But the Telegraph quoted a Tory whip as saying it was an “assumption” that some MPs had sent no-confidence letters to the 1922 Committee.
If 15% of sitting Conservatives submit letters then there would be a vote on his leadership, although the whip said “it will not get anywhere near the 50 letters you would need, but it does cause angst”.
Asked about the suggestion that letters had been sent to the 1922 Committee, Mr Raab told LBC: “There is the usual Westminster tittle tattle and I’m not aware of that.”
The CBI speech and social care revolt on Monday – which saw 19 MPs rebel and dozens more abstain, although the Government succeeded in winning a vote on its social care cap – are the latest issues which have caused concern within Tory ranks.
The Prime Minister’s judgment over the Owen Paterson row and the subsequent U-turn and the way the Integrated Rail Plan was handled have also strained relations between Mr Johnson and his colleagues.
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