Conservative MPs are considering a rule change that would mean Boris Johnson could face a second confidence vote later this year, Sky News has learnt.
Under the current rules, the prime minister would be immune from another challenge for a year if he wins such a vote.
But the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs is considering changing that, Sky News has been told.
What is being considered?
Proposals have been floated for there to be a possible second ballot, but only if a higher threshold is met.
At the moment, 15% of Tory MPs have to write letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, to trigger a contest.
Under the proposals, the threshold for a second vote would be set at one-third of the parliamentary party.
Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby has been told the aim of the move would be to give the party “more flexibility” and make the leader “more accountable”.
Why is the PM under pressure?
It comes as the PM fights to avoid a confidence vote in his leadership amid anger among his MPs over parties and gatherings in Downing Street and other government departments during coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
Mr Johnson has admitted attending a drinks party in the Number 10 garden in May 2020, described by one of his aides as a “bring your own booze” event.
But he has claimed he thought it was a “work event” – and said in an interview on Tuesday that “nobody told me” it was against the rules.
The revelation that officials held two parties in Downing Street the day before the Queen sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral last year has also provoked fury.
Number 10 later apologised to the Queen and said Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day.
Claims of more letters
Westminster has been abuzz with speculation in recent days that the requisite 54 letters could soon be reached, but this has yet to happen.
Around 12 more letters from MPs first elected in 2019 were handed in on Wednesday morning, Sky’s Sam Coates and Joe Pike reported.
Amid a flurry of claims and counterclaims, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told Sky News he believes the threshold will be met this week and a vote held next week.
But another Tory, Jonathan Gullis, claimed some MPs are withdrawing their letters.
However, he did not name names and said he had not spoken with any such individuals directly.
Tory MP defects while another calls on PM to go
On what has proven to be another difficult day for Mr Johnson, one of his MPs defected to Labour.
Christian Wakeford, who represents Bury South, said the PM and the Tories “have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.
Meanwhile, senior Conservative MP David Davis urged Mr Johnson to stand aside during Prime Minister’s Questions, imploring him to “in the name of God, go”.
Speaking later to the Daily Telegraph, the former Brexit secretary said his party is “going to have to make a decision or we face dying a death of 1,000 cuts”.
Number 10 insists PM expects to fight next election
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed the significance of Mr Davis’ intervention, describing him as a “lone wolf”.
“His comments today were too theatrical,” he told Channel 4 News.
Downing Street has said the PM will fight any confidence vote and insisted he expects to fight the next election, currently due in 2024.
According to Mr Johnson’s press secretary, he will have further meetings with MPs as he bids to shore up his position.
Speaking to MPs at PMQs, the PM once again apologised and urged people to wait for the publication of the official Cabinet Office investigation into the gatherings.
Mr Johnson indicated Sue Gray’s long-awaited report will be published this week.