Opposition leaders seized on the result to paint Conservative lawmakers as having endorsed the leadership of a lawbreaking prime minister.
“Conservative MP’s made their choice tonight,” said the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer. “They have ignored the wishes of the British public.” Voters, he said, are “fed up — fed up — with a prime minister who promises big but never delivers.”
The result leaves Conservatives restive and divided, after a tense day in which senior members of the party sparred openly on social media. Some lawmakers argued that his position had become untenable.
Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker, expressed surprise at the size of the rebellion. “I think the prime minister has to go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he goes from here,” Mr. Gale said to the BBC.
But one of Mr. Johnson’s defenders, James Cleverly, a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said, “he’s won it comfortably and now we need to get on with the job.” He said of Mr. Johnson’s electoral track record, “There’s no other candidate that is going to get anything like that level of support.”
Mr. Johnson was greeted warmly when he addressed Conservatives earlier in the afternoon, with some lawmakers pounding their desks in gestures of support, according to those in attendance. But he also got challenging questions, and as the members drifted out of the committee room afterward, it was clear he had not convinced all those who opposed him to call off their mutiny.
“I told the prime minister that if he broke the law he would have to go,” said Steve Baker, an influential pro-Brexit lawmaker who has called on Mr. Johnson to step down. “He’s clearly broken the law, he’s clearly acquiesced in the law being broken, so I stick to my word that I gave on the record that he should go.”
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