Boris Johnson could face a leadership challenge if he does not bow to lockdown sceptics in his party and lift restrictions, a backbench Tory MP has said.
Steve Baker, who led Eurosceptic rebellions on Brexit that brought down Theresa May, said people in the party were “losing faith” in the prime minister’s leadership.
“It’s inevitable the prime minister’s leadership will be on the table,” Mr Baker is said to have privately told colleagues, according to a report in The Sun.
“People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.”
Some Conservative MPs and supporters have voiced scepticism about lockdown restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, variously citing civil liberties, the impact on business, and claims about effectiveness.
Mr Baker was one of the ministers to set up the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, who agitate to water down government measures to fight the virus.
The actual influence of the lockdown sceptics is questionable however, as rebellions have been limited and the government’s large majority has never failed to carry restrictions over the line in parliament.
Consistent support from the opposition Labour Party also makes it very difficult for the government to lose on coronavirus votes.
The latest lockdown regulations in January got through parliament by a huge 524 votes to 16.
Nevertheless, in a note to his lockdown-sceptic colleagues, Mr Baker called for “a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter”.
“Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again,” he said.
“People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership because they are not standing up for our values as a party.”
“If we continue forward with a strategy that hammers freedom, hammers the private sector, hammers small business owners and hammers the poor, inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table.
“We strongly do not want that after all we have been through as a country.”
But following the publication of the note Mr Baker took to social media to publicly endorse the prime minister’s leadership.
“What this country needs is the complete success of Boris Johnson, with his excellent EU deal, a successful vaccination programme and a road to recovery back to freedom,” he posted.
“I am clear Boris is the only person to lead us out of these difficulties and I support him in that endeavour.”
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leaders said the Tories should focus on running the country rather than “fighting amongst themselves”.
“The Conservatives have presided over the worst recession of any major economy and worst excess death rate in Europe,” she said.
“The British people need a government that is committed to defeating this virus and getting Britain vaccinated. Instead, the day after our country recorded the highest daily death toll since this crisis started, the Conservatives are playing politics and fighting amongst themselves.
“Labour is focusing on getting Britain vaccinated so we can secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.”