A delegation of Cabinet ministers is meeting Boris Johnson to urge him to leave Downing Street, as he haemorrhaged support across the Tory ranks.
The Prime Minister insisted “I’m not going to step down” as sources said Grant Shapps and Brandon Lewis are among a group of once-loyal allies demanding he quits.
Seventeen ministers, and a line of ministerial aides, resigned as Mr Johnson’s authority drained away in a dramatic 24 hours in Westminster.
Mr Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who was key in the Prime Minister’s fight for survival during partygate, was also understood to be part of the group, as was Welsh Secretary Simon Hart.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is also understood to believe the Prime Minister now has to go.
Reports even suggested Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed Chancellor on Tuesday, will be among those taking part in the showdown with Mr Johnson.
But loyalist Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was also in No 10 and insisted the Prime Minister could still continue in office.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also remained loyal to Mr Johnson and defended him at a session of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, was thought to be in Downing Street communicating the views of backbenchers following the meeting in Parliament dominated by MPs calling for Mr Johnson to go.
The talks came after the Prime Minister faced an intense grilling before opposition critics and Tory MPs alike on the Commons Liaison Committee, as the stream of ministerial resignations continued.
After being repeatedly pressed for a direct answer, Mr Johnson said “of course” he ruled out triggering a general election if the Tories force him from office.
He did not deny reports that Cabinet minister Michael Gove told him early on Wednesday that he must stand down, but insisted he would still be leader on Thursday.
The mass resignation of ministers, along with a string of parliamentary aides, came after Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid quit their Cabinet posts on Tuesday evening.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the “colossal mandate” he had been handed by voters in 2019 means he should keep going despite the “difficult circumstances” he faces.
But Mr Javid’s resignation statement in the House laid bare the scale of the problems facing the Prime Minister – and he challenged other Cabinet ministers to consider their positions.
Mr Javid said: “Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.
“I will never risk losing my integrity.”
He said “the problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change”.
In a message to Cabinet ministers who decided not to quit, he said: “Not doing something is an active decision.
“I’m deeply concerned about how the next generation will see the Conservative Party on our current course.
“It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when they are not met by others.”
The 14 ministers to quit on Wednesday were Will Quince, Robin Walker, John Glen, Victoria Atkins, Jo Churchill, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien, Alex Burghart, Lee Rowley, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Rachel Maclean and Mike Freer.
In their resignation letters:
– Ex-children and families minister Mr Quince said he could not accept being sent out to defend the Prime Minister on television with inaccurate information over the Chris Pincher row.
– Former justice minister Ms Atkins told Mr Johnson: “I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values. We can and must do better than this.”
– Ms Churchill quit as environment minister, saying: “Recent events have shown integrity, competence and judgment are all essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations.”
– Ms Maclean, who announced her resignation as a Home Office minister while Mr Johnson was giving evidence to the Liaison Committee of senior MPs, said the Prime Minister should “resign for the good of the country and our party”.
– Mr Freer said he was quitting as equalities minister, complaining about “creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people”, adding “I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with”.
Laura Trott, Felicity Buchan, Selaine Saxby, Claire Coutinho, David Johnston, Duncan Baker, Craig Williams and Mark Logan resigned as ministerial aides, while Fay Jones said she would quit on Thursday unless the Prime Minister goes.
MPs on the backbenches were also turning away from the Prime Minister.
Education Select Committee chairman Rob Halfon said he would back a change in leadership, criticising not only a “real loss of integrity” but also “a failure of policy”.
Transport Select Committee chairman Huw Merriman told the BBC Mr Johnson should resign if he has “any dignity left”.
Former Cabinet ministers Robert Jenrick and Liam Fox withdrew their support.
Mr Quince was one of the ministers sent on the airwaves to defend Mr Johnson’s position over Mr Pincher, who quit as deputy chief whip after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London’s Carlton Club.
The Prime Minister later acknowledged he had previously been informed of allegations against Mr Pincher dating back to 2019 and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that point.
Mr Quince said he had received a “sincere apology” from Mr Johnson for being sent out with an “inaccurate” briefing about the Prime Minister’s knowledge of events.
The Prime Minister’s authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support in June.
The loss of crunch by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton later that month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while there is still lingering resentment over coronavirus lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
The committee’s executive did not make any immediate changes to the rules but has scheduled elections for its executive committee to take place on Monday, before a result later that evening.
In a sign that discontent stretches across the party, Lee Anderson, one of the MPs elected in 2019 in Red Wall seats who largely owe their political careers to the Prime Minister, said he too had lost faith in the leader.
The Ashfield MP pointed to the row over Mr Pincher’s appointment and said: “Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days.”