Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, has renewed her calls for Boris Johnson to resign over the Partygate scandal as she accused him of “traducing” the office of prime minister.
One of the first Tories to call for his resignation when the scandal broke, Davidson echoed a handful of Tory MPs who confirmed on Wednesday they stood by their no-confidence letters after Johnson’s fine for breaching his government’s Covid rules.
Now a Tory peer, she said the prime minister had “made a mockery” of the British public’s sacrifices during the pandemic, opening up a split with Douglas Ross, her close ally and successor as Scottish Conservative leader.
In an interview with STV, she called for Johnson to resign. “He spoke to both the country and the parliament and said that no rules had been broken and they clearly had been, and he’s not corrected the record,” said Davidson. “So, I think under those circumstances, he should go.”
Ross was the first Tory MP to publicly urge Johnson to quit in January but has since withdrawn his no-confidence letter to the 1922 Committee, arguing it would boost Vladimir Putin if the British prime minister was forced out of office during the war in Ukraine.
Speaking as the pair campaigned together in Edinburgh before May’s local council elections, Ross hinted his support for the prime minister was temporary and conditional, but refused to discuss what action he might take in future.
He said his current support for the prime minister was not a “free pass” but that questions about Johnson’s fate after the Ukraine war was over – or if the Tories fared disastrously in May’s council elections, as many polls predicted – were “hypothetical”.
Ross said voters were justifiably “angry, furious, they’re livid” at the fines issued to the prime minister, the chancellor and a host of Downing Street officials. “I share a lot of that anger and fury but I also have to look at the situation in Ukraine. I wish that wasn’t happening.”
A series of Scottish opinion polls this year put the Tories third behind Labour for the first time in five years, threatening to end the Tories’ series of strong Scottish election results. Opposition parties believe the Partygate scandal has significantly dented the Conservative’s popular support; Labour and the Liberal Democrat both say they are picking up votes across Scotland.
If true, that implies Davidson’s decision to publicly disagree with her close ally’s stance on the prime minister has tactical value for the Tories, by indicating to disillusioned voters the Conservatives remain unhappy and critical of Johnson’s conduct.
Downplaying the polls, Ross said that Johnson resigning would “create a void, would create instability … allies around the world would know he’s about to leave. And the most important person in all of this – Vladimir Putin – would know he’s about to leave and that instability would undermine everything the west is trying to do to help President Zelenskiy and the people of Ukraine.”
Davidson said that if Johnson was sincere about wanting to uphold the law over Ukraine, he should start with his own conduct.
“I don’t think the prime minister’s apology last night [over being fined] was anything other than contrite and meaningful and I’m sure he is very sorry for what’s happened but I believe that the prime minister should lead by example,” she said.
“I believe that the office of the prime minister is traduced when you’ve got somebody that breaks the laws that they himself have brought in and I completely understand that there are really big geopolitics happening. Right now. There are big international issues. But I still believe that when it comes to supporting a country fighting for freedom and democracy, you have to uphold your own rules. You have to.”