Tory MPs are pushing to introduce new rules to protect the next prime minister from a confidence vote for a year after they enter Downing Street, Sky News has learnt.
A confidence vote is when the PM’s own backbenchers are balloted over whether they should continue in office.
The move is being pushed by members of the Tory 1922 executive committee, a group of Tory backbench shop stewards who oversee the leadership rules.
But it has triggered outrage amongst some Tory MPs, who call it divisive and unfair.
Nigel Evans, the joint executive secretary of the 1922, told Sky News that the move was being discussed and he personally backs a change.
Mr Evans said: “There is discussion within the 1922 as to whether we should change the rules. Those talks are still ongoing. Change them to safeguard a new leader. When they’ve been elected by the membership that (the new leader) should be given at least a 12 month run before any challenges.”
Theresa May and her predecessors did not enjoy such protection.
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Currently, Tory leaders who win a confidence vote – such as Mrs May last December – enjoy a year’s protection.
But this does not automatically extend to an incoming leader.
This means that Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt could in theory face a challenge as Tory leader within days of becoming prime minister if 47 Tory MPs – 15% of the parliamentary party – write to the 1922 chairman demanding a vote takes place.
Mr Evans, a Johnson supporter who supports changing the rules, said: “As the current rules stand they can do, they can (trigger an immediate confidence vote). But it would look really absurd.
“I think there would be an immense amount of anger by the membership that not only do these people not accept the outcome of the referendum, but now they don’t even accept the outcome of a legitimate election that the new leader has been elected (by the membership).”
Theresa May survived a confidence vote in December
Asked if there was a majority on the 1922, he said: “I don’t know. It’s an ongoing discussion. We haven’t made a decision yet and whilst we haven’t made a decision, so the old rules still stand.”
Asked why some might object to the changes, he said: “There may be unintended consequences. If you put in 12 months protection then all of a sudden something happens. (We are) still debating what those unforeseen circumstances might be.”
This is not the first time the 1922 committee executive have considered changing the rules.
Earlier this year they debated whether to abolish the year-long protection after a confidence vote as a move to oust Mrs May.
Tory MPs told Sky that any such move to change the rules would be outrageous.
Nigel Evans said there was an 'ongoing discussion' about the rule change
Sam Gyimah, former minister and briefly a Tory leadership contender, said: “The 1922 cannot be refereeing and at the same time mucking up with rules as we go along.
“They did it with leadership contest, if they do it again now it will undermine their credibility with parliamentary party.”
Keith Simpson, a veteran Tory MP, said: “I think it would be incredibly divisive.
“I can see a lot of colleagues that would say yes, fair enough. Others would say we’re living in such peculiar times, it’s unfair. (Boris Johnson) has got to spell out what his policy is.
“He’s got to encourage and look for support. If he tries to lay down the law – it’s not gonna work.”
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve – among those Conservatives who support a second EU referendum – suggested Mr Johnson was just as likely to face a confidence vote in his entire government, than on his leadership among just Tory MPs.
He said: “The reality is the risks and problems that Boris Johnson faces, if he is unable to deliver a credible policy and credible leadership, lie as much in – actually – falling on a motion of no confidence in the House of Commons, as they do in being removed by members of the party.
“Although, clearly, being removed by members of the party might be a less apocalyptic outcome than a no confidence motion.”