LONDON — One of his lawmakers calls him a “dead man walking.” The leader of the Scottish Conservatives says he should quit. After a humiliating day for Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, in Parliament on Wednesday, some cabinet ministers were notably slow in expressing support.
After admitting he attended a party in Downing Street during Britain’s first and fiercest coronavirus lockdown, Mr. Johnson is in big trouble, two years after leading his Conservatives to their biggest election victory in decades.
Here are some guidelines to help you understand how troublesome it is and what might happen next.
This is more than a few beers in a garden.
On Wednesday, Johnson apologised for his attendance at a May 2020 gathering that allegedly violated the lockdown rules he had placed on England. The party took place in the garden at No. 10 Downing Street, where British prime ministers both live and work, and staff were asked to “bring your own booze.”
Johnson stated that he believed it was a work event but that didn’t do much to placate critics.
It’s the latest of a series of reports about parties in Downing Street while restrictions were in force, claims that have depressed the Conservatives’ opinion-poll ratings and led to the tearful resignation of an aide who was caught on video laughing about a Christmas “wine and cheese” gathering. Sue Gray, a senior civil servant has been assigned to investigate reports from seven parties that might be in breach of rules in 2020.
For several reasons, the most recent disclosure is the most serious. After insisting for weeks on the strictness of all rules, Johnson admitted to being present at an event to dozens of people, at a time when there were restrictions that prohibited socializing with more then one person outside of work.
Some lawmakers responded to Mr. Johnson’s apology with testimony from people who were barred from visiting dying relatives.
Mr. Johnson’s lawmakers could simply force him out.
It is difficult to get rid a serving prime Minister in Britain, but not impossible. The nation’s top job goes to the leader of the political party with a Parliamentary majority. The party can remove its leader and elect another, changing prime ministers without having to hold a general elections.
Under the Conservative Party’s current rules, its members of Parliament can hold a binding vote of no confidence in Mr. Johnson if 54 of them write to formally request one. The request letters are confidential.
Only four Conservatives have publicly called for Johnson’s resignation so far. Only one senior lawmaker knows the number of letters that Johnson has received, and he will only reveal the number publicly if it reaches the threshold for a challenge.
Mr. Johnson would be able to keep his job if he won a simple majority of Conservative lawmakers in a secret vote of no confidence. He would be exempted from such a challenge for a year, unless the rules are changed.
His cabinet could endanger him.
Cabinet rebellions can cause instability in prime ministers and could be crucial in pushing them to the exit. The catalyst for Margaret Thatcher’s demise in 1990 was the resignation of Geoffrey Howe, a disaffected former ally, and Theresa May lost several ministers — including Mr. Johnson himself, who quit as foreign secretary in 2018.
Johnson has mostly maintained cabinet discipline in his role as prime minister. David Frost, the former Brexit negotiator and David Johnson, resigned last year due to policy differences. After Johnson’s apology, Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of Exchequer) took several hours to show lukewarm support. Although it may be a coincidence that this happened, Mr. Sunak is a strong contender to replace Mr. Johnson if he falls.
Or he might succumb to the quiet pressure.
Once this was known as a visit from the “men in gray suits,” a phrase dating from an age when all key power brokers Were men. In those days, when a group known as the “magic circle” chose the Conservative Party leader, such bigwigs could withdraw support, too, and ask the prime minister to resign. Nowadays things aren’t quite like that, but leaders can still be persuaded to depart on their own terms and keep a measure of dignity, or risk being booted out unceremoniously.
In 2019, Mrs. May resigned, just months after she survived a leadership challenge vote. It was clear that her support within Labour Party had declined so much that her position was untenable. Similar pressure was used in 2007 to force Tony Blair, Labour Party prime-minister, from Downing Street.
The fatal blow, if any, could be months away.
It is not easy to time a coup. Critics will not force a confidence vote until they believe Mr. Johnson is so badly damaged that he can lose. This tipping point may be approaching, but it is critical to note that there is not consensus on who would replace Johnson, and therefore no single group orchestrating a challenge.
Understand Boris Johnson’s Recent Troubles
Mr. Sunak is currently the front-runner. Liz Truss is the foreign secretary and is a strong contender. However, many others are likely to run. All of them need to be careful. Ambitious rivals have in the past been seen as disloyal and were unable to win the crown (though not Johnson, who opposed Mrs. May, and then succeeded her).
Most Conservative lawmakers are asking themselves if a change would be beneficial. None of his potential successors can match the appeal that he demonstrated leading the party to a landslide victory for them in 2019.
Most Conservative lawmakers seem to be waiting for Ms. Gray’s internal inquiry before deciding which way to jump. Despite her reputation for independence, she is in a rare and awkward position — an unelected civil servant compiling a report that could prove terminal for her elected boss. So some analysts expect her to restrict her findings to facts she establishes without making a direct judgment on Mr. Johnson’s conduct.
Mr. Johnson has bounced back before.
Escaping scrapes is one of the prime minister’s defining skills. A Conservative former prime minister, David Cameron, once described Mr. Johnson as the “greased piglet” of politics: His career has contained no shortage of dismissals and humiliations, each so far followed by a greater triumph.
To get out of this tight spot, Mr. Johnson must avert cabinet resignations. He also needs to stop a rush of letters calling for a no confidence vote. He will then hope that Ms. Gray’s report is diplomatic enough for him to survive, albeit after another apology and a purge of his top team. He could please his party’s lawmakers by ending all coronavirus restrictions later this month, giving him more breathing space.
He might be in even greater trouble.
Other than the Downing Street party crisis, things look tough for the government. While energy bills are on the rise, inflation is high and interest rates have risen at a moment when Johnson is about to increase taxes, The opposition Labour Party has gained traction with its complaints about a “cost of living squeeze.”
Mr. Johnson’s enemies are circling and Mr. Sunak and Ms. Truss are maneuvering. In May the Conservatives face local elections which will test Mr. Johnson’s popularity. Opinion polls indicate that Johnson is now dragging his party down. A recent survey found that the Conservatives trailed Labour by 10 points, which is its worst showing in 8 years.
In 2019, Mr. Johnson was elected prime minister because his party correctly predicted that he would win a general election. If the party concludes that Johnson will lose the next one, Johnson’s days are over.
Source: NY Times