Boris Johnson has sacked senior cabinet minister Michael Gove after the levelling up secretary told him he had lost support of the Conservative Party and should now resign.
The prime minister is refusing to resign and will “fight on”, his allies say, after confrontations at No 10 with senior cabinet ministers who pleaded with him to accept the game is up.
Mr Gove privately told Mr Johnson it is time to quit as PM at a meeting earlier on Wednesday, The Independent understands.
Referring to Mr Gove as a “snake”, one No 10 source told the BBC that “you can’t have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully tells the press the leader has to go”.
Mr Johnson told ministers he was staying put, The Independent was told by a senior No 10 source, as allies made clear he would remain in place until he is forced out by another confidence vote.
The PM also reminded ministers that 14 million people voted for him, saying the party would have to “take that mandate off them”.
James Duddridge, the PM’s parliamentary private secretary, told Sky News: “The prime minister is in buoyant mood and will fight on. He has a 14 million mandate and so much to do for the county.”
A key ally of the prime minister told The Sun: “If the party wants to overthrow the elected will of the people, they have to dip their hands in blood.”
The message of defiance sparked another round of resignations and calls for the PM to go. Simon Hart stepped down from his role as Welsh secretary, while Ed Argar quit as junior health secretary saying “change was needed”.
Attorney general Suella Braverman also said “it’s time to go” for Mr Johnson, before daring No 10 to sack her. “I don’t want to resign because I have that duty,” she told ITV’s Peston.
Ms Braverman also said she will put her name into the ring if there is a leadership contest.
Following Mr Gove’s sacking, Tory MP Danny Kruger announced he was quitting as a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) in the levelling up department, followed by James Daly’s resignation as PPS at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Home secretary Priti Patel, transport secretary Grant Shapps, Welsh secretary Simon Hart and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis were seen heading into No 10 on Wednesday evening.
Ms Patel told Mr Johnson he has lost the support of MPs during her discussion with the PM. The home secretary told him the overwhelming view of the parliamentary party was that his time at No 10 was up.
Mr Shapps is thought to have told Mr Johnson that he stood little chance of winning another confidence vote and should instead set out a timetable for a departure on his own terms.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is also understood to have told Mr Johnson he should go.
The powerful 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers pulled back from a threat to change party rules immediately to allow another confidence vote in Boris Johnson.
The group decided it would be unfair to ditch the 12-month grace period currently enjoyed by the prime minister before committee elections can take place on Monday.
However, a source on the committee said the group does not expect Mr Johnson to remain in power until Monday, after a group of cabinet ministers headed to No 10 to tell the PM it is time to go.
Despite the lack of agreement on a rule change, 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady was reportedly heading into Downing Street to “offer wise counsel” on Wednesday night.
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke said nominations to the 1922 Committee will close at midday Monday, before a vote takes place between 2pm and 4pm on Monday, with results soon afterwards.
It would then be up to a new committee to decide whether to change the rules to bring forward a fresh confidence vote, which currently cannot take place until 2023 after the PM narrowly survived last month’s ballot.
Mr Johnson would be expected to be defeated in such a vote – if he manages to cling on until next week – after dozens of Tory MPs turned on him or spoke out against him for the first time in the last 24 hours.
Mr Shelbrooke later told Sky News it is “only a matter of time” before Mr Johnson leaves No 10.
More than 40 resignations of ministers, aides and envoys have followed the sensational exit of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid from cabinet on Tuesday night.
There had been speculation the 1922 Committee could go ahead with a immediate change to the rules after senior figures on the group spoke out in parliament on Wednesday.
Robert Halfon, who is a 1922 Committee member and had remained loyal until this week, said: “If there is a vote for a change in leadership, I will now vote for that change.”
Senior Tory MP Gary Sambrook received a round of applause from the Labour benches after calling on Mr Johnson to resign at PMQs.
Mr Sambrooke, executive secretary of the 1922 Committee accused Mr Johnson of attempting “to blame other people for mistakes”, and told him directly: “Take responsibility and resign”.
Sajid Javid has called on his former cabinet colleagues to oust the flailing Tory leader – telling the Commons he had quit because he had concluded that the PM was “the problem” and would not change.