It will be a turbulent affair when Tory MPs hold their first no-confidence vote in three-and-a-half years at 6 p.m. tonight.
They will have their phones confiscated from the door of paneled committee room 10 to ensure they do not take pictures of their ballots.
Last time there was a ban on photos, but phones were allowed, so several MPs flouted the rules.
This time, perhaps expecting diabolical behavior in a 6 p.m. vote on the 6th of the 6th, the 1922 backbench committee is taking no chances.
Chairman Graham Brady said he would run a ‘tight vessel’ inside the room, banning whips and spies from hiding inside – although what they do outside he can’t control it.
“We insist that photographs are not taken,” he added.
One of the two doors to the room will be designated as the entrance and the other as the exit, and MPs will line up at the entrance to collect their ballots.
The wording is likely to be simple – that MPs ‘trust Boris Johnson’ as Tory leader, or ‘don’t trust’.
MPs will then proceed to a shielded booth at the back of the room where they will fill out their ballot and cast their ballots.
The names of individual MPs will not be recorded on the ballots that will be counted.
Once the vote closes at 8 p.m., the officers of the 1922 Committee will count the votes in the same room where they were cast.
Yet some rules are still vague and mysterious.
There is no process for what happens if there is a tie. A conservative source admitted: “That would be a real shame. We were crossing that bridge when we got there.
There is also no specific arrangement on what to do if a recount is requested. The ballots will likely be shredded afterwards.
1922 Committee Chairman Graham Brady gets a vote like everyone else and it is understood he intends to use it. But he doesn’t tell people how he’s going to vote and it’s not a “casting vote”.
The non-confidence letters have arrived by paper, email and WhatsApp, but Sir Graham has resolutely kept them on paper – they are thought to be somewhere like a safe.
No one but him has proof that he is telling the truth about the number of letters, and no one can verify because the process is confidential.
Another big mystery is when, exactly, the 54-letter threshold was reached – given that it was announced immediately after the Jubilee weekend.
Some MPs suggested that they would submit letters as soon as the Jubilee was over. MPs essentially sent post-dated letters, although exactly how they were labeled was unclear.
Sir Graham Brady, who spent much of yesterday painting one of his children’s flats, called Boris Johnson on the phone on Sunday afternoon to say the threshold had been reached.
He confirmed today that the threshold ‘was crossed on Sunday with a clear indication from some others’ that there were more letters to come.
But he did not give specific times. We also don’t know exactly how many letters were received.
George Cracknell Wright/LNP)
The rules say he consults with the leader of the party to decide the timing, so today’s vote belonged to the Prime Minister. But convention dictates that it should happen as quickly as circumstances permit.
Electronic voting is strictly prohibited, but those unable to travel to Westminster in person can obtain a proxy vote.
Members are prohibited from voting more than twice by proxy each on behalf of colleagues who are not present.
Around 1:30 p.m. Monday, 16 or 17 MPs had requested proxy votes, including ministers who are overseas.
The MP who votes by proxy on behalf of an MP must bring an email from that MP indicating that they wish to vote by proxy.
Anyone voting by proxy must vote for themselves, leave the room, then join the back of the queue to enter the committee room and get another ballot for the proxy.
All 359 MPs who have the Tory Whip can vote – including one MP who stays out of Parliament because he is accused of rape. He can vote by proxy.
Boris Johnson is expected to know the result very shortly before it is announced. Last seen, Graham Brady messaged Theresa May to let her know.
However, it is believed to be wrong for Sir Graham to ‘run around’ when the threshold is near to check that MPs are sticking to their letters of censure.
For months rumors have suggested there is a round, which would warn Boris Johnson when the threshold is near.
But a Tory source said such a course would cause “hares to run” and “make people feel like we were about to cross the threshold”.
Voting is by simple majority. If all 359 vote, 180 or more would have to vote ‘no confidence’ to overthrow Boris Johnson.
If only 299 vote, 150 should vote “no confidence”, and so on. But all or almost all Tory MPs are expected to vote.
If Boris Johnson wins the vote – which most MPs still think is likely – he will technically be safe for another year. In reality, his power will begin to wane.
The 1922 Committee executive would also be free to change the grace period from 12 months to six months, which they discussed in 2019 after Theresa May voted.
A Conservative Party source insisted that, despite reports to the contrary, the 1922 Committee has not formally discussed shortening this period since 2019.
If Boris Johnson loses he is believed to be ousted as Tory leader, with sources believing this would happen automatically and immediately.
It is understood that he cannot participate in the subsequent leadership contest.
However, he could remain as caretaker prime minister until a new Conservative Party leader is found.
The executive of the 1922 Committee and Conservative Party HQ would jointly arrange a timetable for a leadership election beginning with the parliamentary elimination phase, where MPs narrowed the field to two candidates to present to the membership at large.
It is believed that any leadership election could take up to three months.
But that includes a full membership ballot – something that didn’t happen in 2016 because Theresa May’s last rival, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out.
There is no legal minimum duration for a leadership contest. The parliamentary knockout phase could be completed quite quickly – for example within a few weeks.