DOUGLAS Ross has warned his fellow Tory MPs not to move against Boris Johnson in the wake of expected local election losses across the UK this week.

The Scottish Tory leader said it would be wrong to try to oust the Prime Minister while the war in Ukraine was at a “tipping point”.

While insisting he was not giving Mr Johnson “a free pass”, the Moray MP said: “The priority still has to be securing a peaceful resolution."

In an interview with the Herald about the elections, Mr Ross said he was "really confident" of coming ahead of Labour despite polls showing his party slipping to third place, and predicted "a really good result”.

He also denied the Tory party was “institutionally sexist” in the wake of fresh rows about misogyny, abuse of power, and MP Neil Parish quitting for watching porn in the Commons. 

Many Tory backbenchers are said to be planning to submit letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister within hours of the polls closing because of the partygate scandal.

Despite Mr Johnson being fined last month for breaking lockdown rules, MPs held back to avoid a leadership crisis in the middle of the campaign and to keep losses to a minimum.

The end of the election changes that calculation, and Downing Street is on alert for a swift effort to topple the PM.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who came second to Mr Johnson in the Tory leadership contest of 2019, is reported to be mounting a bid.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace are tipped to follow suit so if 54 Tory MPs secure a confidence vote that either ousts or mortally wounds Mr Johnson.

Mr Ross initially called for Mr Johnson to quit over partygate, then U-turned in March, saying the war in Ukraine had made it vital he remain in post. Having previously said the PM’s position was “untenable”, he recently said he was once more “fit for office”.

The PM will today become the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament since the conflict began, deliberately evoking Churchill’s fight against Hitler in World War II by saying the struggle against Vladimir Putin is “Ukraine’s finest hour”.

Ukraine is currently trying to hold back Russian advances in the Donbas region, and is urgently asking the West to supply it with heavy artillery.

Asked if he thought Tory MPs should try to bring down Mr Johnson this weekend, Mr Ross said: “Right now President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine are at a tipping point in terms of what’s going on in the country.

“It’s up to every single MP, but my position is at the moment the priority still has to be securing a peaceful resolution to the atrocities in Ukraine.

“I still think the strength of the UK response, in many ways leading much of the Western response, is crucial to the outcome being a successful Ukraine able to flourish again.

“I’m not giving the Prime Minister a free pass, and I never have.

“I can only say, looking at the situation right now, and some of the intelligence briefings that are given to all MPs, we are at a particularly crucial stage right now and that’s why I don’t want to do anything to destabilise that.”

But he added: "Who knows where we’ll be in a few weeks or months’ time.”

By the time the polls close, Mr Ross expects to have visited all 30 councils where his party is standing, meaning everywhere bar Orkney and Shetland.

After their best result in 35 years in 2017, with 276 councillors to Labour’s 262, he admits the Scottish Tories are defending a “very high watermark”.

However he expects to make gains because the party under-estimated its support in the Borders and North East, and is now fielding more candidates.

He also said national polling was hard to get right for local elections, and he and party workers were encouraged by positive feedback on the doorstep

So is he expecting to come second?

“Yes, I am. I’ve been here before, where everyone is predicting a Labour revival. But 12 months ago [at the Holyrood election] Labour went backwards. 

“People can see we’re the strongest party to take on the SNP.

"We've made it very clear we’re going to do nothing to enable SNP administrations. Whereas Labour have already got some candidates saying they would enter into coalition with the SNP again.

"That message is hitting home - that if you vote for Labour you could end up getting SNP.”

Does he agree with his colleague Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, that the Tory party is institutionally sexist?

“No, but I have great admiration for Caroline. I take a different view. But there is clearly a big problem both within the party, that we have to address, and within the wider Westminster culture.

"Every party is affected by this.   

“There are far too many taking part in absolutely abhorrent behaviour that they think they can get away with, and they can’t, and they shouldn’t, and that has to be called out.” 

There is speculation that if Thursday is bad for the Scottish Tories, Mr Ross will quit. Will he be sticking around?

“Absolutely. I’ll be here for some time to come. There’s a lot of work I want to do. I’m not looking at coming third.”