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Conservative MP defects to Labour in further blow to Boris Johnson

Christian Wakeford, right, won the Lancashire seat for the Tories at the 2019 general election with a majority of 402 © Russell Hart/Alamy

Christian Wakeford, the Conservative MP for Bury South, defected to the Labour party on Wednesday just minutes before Boris Johnson was set to address the House of Commons.

The 37-year-old who won the Lancashire seat for the Tories at the 2019 general election with a majority of just 402, said the Conservative party had “shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.

The timing of the defection was a big blow to Johnson, coming just minutes before the prime minister faced MPs at question time in the Commons. Wakeford’s defection is the first to Labour in 15 years.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, said Wakeford “always put the people of Bury South first”. He added: “As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.”

James Frith, the former Labour MP for Bury North, said: “I think he has shown great courage in recent weeks.”

The last Tory MP to defect to Labour was in 2007 when Quentin Davies, the former MP for Grantham and Stamford jumped ship.

Shaun Woodward, a millionaire Conservative MP, switched to Labour in 1999 and ended up as a cabinet minister.

More recently, former Commons Speaker John Bercow, a one-time rightwing Tory MP, joined the Labour party, albeit after he had left parliament.

Senior Tory MPs said they believed Johnson could shortly face a no-confidence vote, as MPs first elected in 2019 plotted to bring down the prime minister over alleged lockdown parties in Downing Street.

Fifty four Tory MPs need to demand a vote of no confidence to trigger such a vote. Some Tory MPs have tabled letters already, while others are waiting for the outcome of an inquiry into the parties by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant.

One former cabinet minister said he was not sure exactly when a confidence vote would be triggered, but added: “I think a vote is on.” Johnson loyalists, however, believe the prime minister can head off a leadership challenge.

The prime minister will on Wednesday set out plans to lift Covid-19 Plan B measures — including work from home guidance and Covid passes — from January 26, when they legally expire in any event.

While that will please many Tory MPs, their principal focus is on whether Johnson can survive in office. The criticisms by anonymous cabinet ministers of Tory plotters has fuelled anger in the party.

Johnson is expected to meet potential rebels on Wednesday to effectively plead for his job, following on from a series of similar meetings on Tuesday night.

In a further blow to Johnson’s authority, Labour has taken an 11-point lead across the so-called “red wall” of northern constituencies, according to a JL Partners poll for Channel 4 published on Wednesday.

The Conservatives would lose all but three of the 45 “red wall” seats, according to “tracker” polling carried out since November 2020. Labour leads the poll by 11 points, with 48 per cent of those surveyed supporting the opposition and just 37 per cent backing the Tories.

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