The rebels are ‘haemorrhaging’ support, declared a bullish minister just an hour before 100 Tory MPs delivered the biggest bloody nose of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

The optimistic prediction is a good example of the disconnect between the dysfunctional government machine, and the ever-mutiny Tory backbenches.

As he tried to win over rebel MPs, the minister emerged from an urgently convened 1922 Committee meeting.

Mr Johnson explained he had ‘absolutely no choice’ but to implement his Covid Plan B, given the dire warnings – and agreed to their central demand that Parliament would be recalled if further curbs are needed this Christmas.

‘I did my best,’ he told reporters as he emerged from the wood-panelled room.

However, within an hour, rebels had quietly repaid the concession and voted in his favor.

‘He tried to give it the old magic, and he came with a big concession,’ said one MP. ‘But people have had enough.

‘He needs to change or go, and he hasn’t changed for 40 years.’

Mr Johnson explained he had ¿absolutely no choice¿ but to implement his Covid Plan B, given the dire warnings ¿ and agreed to their central demand that Parliament would be recalled if further curbs are needed this Christmas

Mr Johnson explained he had ‘absolutely no choice’ but to implement his Covid Plan B, given the dire warnings – and agreed to their central demand that Parliament would be recalled if further curbs are needed this Christmas

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, declared that the prospect of a New Year leadership contest was now ‘on the cards’.

However, for some rebel MPs the vote was paradoxically cathartic.

‘All this stupid talk of leadership challenges is completely overblown, at least for now,’ said one former Cabinet minister. 

‘This was a wake-up call to Boris that he needs to sort out the shambles he is presiding over. If he doesn’t, then the party will eventually decide it is going to lose under him and act accordingly. But we are not at that point yet.’

However, there are potential competitors.

Tory MPs are being quietly informed by Chancellor Rishi Sonak that he opposed the inclusion of Plan B in this stage.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is hosting drinks receptions for potential supporters at a discreet private members’ club in Mayfair.

In a further sign of Miss Truss’s vaulting ambition, she released images of her Christmas card yesterday in which she strikes a pose so regal that observers joked she had moved on from wanting to be prime minister and now hopes to succeed the Queen.

In a further sign of Miss Truss¿s vaulting ambition, she released images of her Christmas card yesterday in which she strikes a pose so regal that observers joked she had moved on from wanting to be prime minister and now hopes to succeed the Queen

In a further sign of Miss Truss’s vaulting ambition, she released images of her Christmas card yesterday in which she strikes a pose so regal that observers joked she had moved on from wanting to be prime minister and now hopes to succeed the Queen 

The situation could become worse as North Shropshire’s voters vote today. Since more than 200 year, the picturesque constituency has had a Conservative MP. The majority was almost 23,000 for Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister.

But the Tory campaign is struggling against a backdrop of the sleaze allegations triggered by Mr Paterson’s departure, and controversy about lockdown-busting parties in No 10 last Christmas.

The latter has become such a hot topic on the doorstep that when candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst was cornered by veteran political reporter Michael Crick yesterday, he was unwilling to say, four times, whether he believes the PM is a man of ‘honesty and integrity’.

One MP predicted that ‘the letters will go in’ if the Tories fail to hold North Shropshire – a reference to Tory rules that require 55 letters of no confidence to be sent to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady to trigger a leadership contest.

But most reckon the PM still has a little time to put his house in order before a trickle of letters becomes a flood, not least because a potential electoral disaster in North Shropshire is already being ‘priced in’. One Tory source said defeat was ‘inevitable’.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is quietly letting it be known to Tory MPs that he argued against the introduction of Plan B at this stage

Tory MPs are being quietly informed by Chancellor Rishi Sonak that he opposed the inclusion of Plan B in this stage.

Omicron crises are looming as a larger problem.

A Downing Street insider voiced frustration yesterday at the opposition to the Government’s watered-down Plan B proposals, which almost no-one thinks will be enough to halt the mutant strain.

‘They just don’t get it,’ said the source – a sentiment echoed by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said Tuesday’s vote ‘felt like it was fighting yesterday’s war – the issue now is not whether we have Covid passes but whether nightclubs are able to open at all’.

The opposition’s size seems to be enough for the PM not to reconsider imposing stricter measures. 

¿They just don¿t get it,¿ said the source ¿ a sentiment echoed by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said Tuesday¿s vote ¿felt like it was fighting yesterday¿s war

‘They just don’t get it,’ said the source – a sentiment echoed by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said Tuesday’s vote ‘felt like it was fighting yesterday’s war

A Cabinet source said: ‘I don’t see how it will be possible to bring in anything else unless there is very clear evidence that Omicron is leading to hospitalisations and deaths.’

This all takes place against the backdrop of fear at No 10, where staff anxiously wait to find out if they’ll be expelled from the party when Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary, reports on the notorious party culture over the next few days. 

Insiders are angry at the BBC because it has taken advantage of Labour-supporting Daily Mirror claims about No 10. They admit that the controversy has reached the general public.

Friends of the PM acknowledge he looks ‘knackered’ – not helped by the arrival last week of his seventh child.

A Cabinet minister thinks the PM might even quit, if his MPs make a coordinated effort to force him out.

‘Everyone needs to calm down,’ the minister said. ‘Think of the endless crises we were in under Theresa May.

‘That said, if it did come to it I think he might walk away rather than face the psychodrama of a contest. Some days he seems like he’s had enough.’

Opposition to Mrs May’s reign was focused largely among the party’s Brexiteers. Boris has, however, been criticized everywhere he goes.

Opposition to Mrs May¿s reign was focused largely among the party¿s Brexiteers. Boris, by contrast, has got critics everywhere he looks

Opposition to Mrs May’s reign was focused largely among the party’s Brexiteers. Boris is the opposite.

Many of the Brexiteers that helped him win office are bitterly against his Covid policies.

Among the rebels were old allies, including Liam Fox, Damian Green and Sir Charles Walker. Mrs May abstained, doing nothing to discourage speculation she is quietly encouraging a ‘Project Revenge’ operation against the man who helped force her from office.

It is worrying for No 10. The rebellion involved a large amount of MPs who were drawn from the 2019 intake. Normally, they would be expected to keep their loyalty. Louie French voted in opposition to the government less than two weeks after being elected as a Bexley By-election candidate.

‘The whipping operation is broken,’ observed one senior minister. ‘They seem to be totally blindsided by the level of anger over this and were slow to react even when it became glaringly obvious.’

An old friend says Mr Johnson should take some time off, but he still needs to bounce back.

‘The situation is not irrecoverable,’ said one of his oldest allies. ‘No one is better at getting out of a tight corner.

‘My advice to him would be to use this opportunity to clear the decks. Get every single piece of bad news out there now, have a good Christmas holiday, hire some big hitters to beef up No 10 and get back to his post-Brexit agenda refreshed in the New Year.’

Sage advice. The Omicron Onslaught is fast approaching so the chance of Prime Minister taking a Christmas vacation to get his head clear and fix the government machine that’s broken look slim.