Keep your promises Prime Minister! MPs warn Boris that wallpaper is not the problem

Boris Johnson insists he is 'focussed on stuff that matters'

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With crucial “mid term” elections across the UK with voters electing city regions mayors, the Scottish and Welsh governments as well as local councils, the row over the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s flat and the fallout with his former chief of staff Dominic Cummings is not coming up on the doorsteps. Behind the scenes Conservative MPs believe that they will still win the West Midlands and Teesside mayoral elections while Wales is very close to them topping the poll as the biggest party. More dramatically they think that the party has a chance of winning a seat off Labour despite being in government for 11 years making it only the second government gain over in a by-election since 1982.

But backbenchers have told the Prime Minister that he will be facing trouble if he fails to keep his promises with MPs threatening a major rebellion over providing amnesty from prosecution for military veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

One senior MP claimed that the problem is “the Northern Ireland Office is dragging its feet and making life difficult.”

The MP pointed out that the Government has paid out £10,000 in compensation to a civil servant in the NIO who objected to passing a portrait of the Queen.

“If we have official like this in the NIO then what hope do we have of them helping out our military veterans who served during the Troubles,” the MP said.

Former minister Mark Francois, deputy chairman on the Veterans Support Group in the House of Commons, said: “In our 2019 GE Manifesto, we promised to legislate on this issue, yet nearly 18 months on we still have not seen a Bill from the NIO. What is now crucial, is that we see a firm commitment in the Queen’s Speech to introduce this legislation, for which our veterans have already been waiting for far too long.”

Another red wall MP pointed to the recent resignation of veterans minister Johnny Mercer over the issue.

“A number of us are very unhappy with the foot dragging,” he said.

However, Conservatives across the country are confident that the commotion over the Prime Minister’s alleged comments on “bodies piling high” with covid or the decoration of his official flat in Westminster is not a priority issue for voters.

MPs said the public response does not compare to the passions ignited by Dominic Cummings’ travels during last year’s lockdown, or by footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals during holidays.

A Conservative MP in a former Labour “red wall” seat said he had only had four emails and one phone call about “sleaze,” adding: “The worst times so far [since] I’ve been elected were Dominic Cummings and free school meals and those were horrific. I mean, we were getting hundreds of emails and getting abuse online.”

North West Leicestshire MP Andrew Bridgen noted: “It seems to be more of a problem for our middle class voters in the south than our working class ones in the north.”

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who spoke to the Sunday Express while campaigning in Teesside, said: “I have had maybe four emails and nothing on the doorsteps. It has all been about the vaccine rollout and how fast we are unlocking.”

Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “It just hasn’t come up at all. Voters I have spoken to seem to be more interested in what we are doing as a government.

“Labour doesn’t seem to realise that this is not a priority for most voters and it is not exactly going to win back the red wall for them.”

Thursday’s mega-elections – when voters will choose councillors, mayors, police and crime commissioners, members of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and a new MP for Hartlepool – are seen as a key test for how the prime minister’s support is holding up across the country.

Andrew RT Davies, who leads the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament, said Mr Johnson was “definitely an asset”.

He said: “I was with Boris on Monday up in North Wales and he went down a storm. We went up and down Llandudno promenade and he was literally mobbed.

“Could you imagine a prime minister with the profile that Boris has had – dare I say someone like Tony Blair – doing such a walk around when they were prime minister? And he was busily eating an ice cream [on] the beach, and there wasn’t [dissent] from anyone…

“And that wasn’t a controlled crowd. That was a crowd who were out for a sunny afternoon in Llandudno and just happened to have the prime minister in their midst.”

Richard Holden, who won North West Durham for the Conservatives in 2019, said: “The key thing on the ground in these elections – particularly in the North and in seats like mine – is who’s going to deliver the levelling-up agenda, who’s going to keep council tax reasonable, and who’s going to stand up for local communities? That’s what’s cutting through at the moment.

“For campaigners, this Westminster tittle-tattle is an annoying distraction basically but that’s it.”

Hemel Hempstead Conservative Sir Mike Penning stressed that MPs recognised Mr Johnson’s strengths as a campaigner.

“Boris won them an election,” he said.

Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West, said he had received “very, very few emails” about the controversy and those came from “known activists or non-supporters”. In contrast, he was “inundated” with emails over the Dominic Cummings’s lockdown travel.

However, the debacle may be having an effect within Westminster.

A senior Conservative source said: “It’s starting to hit Boris’s credibility in the parliamentary party more than it is out there in the country… I think it’s definitely true.

“I think it’s a real worry for MPs. I think they think, ‘How on earth did he allow himself to get into this pickle?’”

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