Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived a no-confidence vote against him, narrowly escaping a fall. However, the prime minister’s future remains uncertain as the noose has tightened.
Boris Johnson has become the stand-up man of British politics. Despite “Partygate” and his Tories’ motion of no confidence in him, he remains Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – for the time being. Because after the vote on Monday evening, it remains unclear how long Johnson can still stand. After all, 148 of the 359 conservative members of the House of Commons voted no confidence in Johnson.
Johnson dismissed that for a moment, hailing a majority of 211 votes to remain in power, calling it a “convincing” result. “Of course I understand that we need to come together now as a government and as a party. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do now,” Johnson told reporters. “We’ll keep going,” he promised.
“Keep calm and carry on” also?
That might prove difficult. Because the high number of votes against him are a clear sign that things are seething within the conservatives. The pressure on Johnson over the “Partygate” affair has been growing for the past few months. However, according to the current rules of the British Conservatives, a further vote of no confidence is excluded for a period of twelve months.
Tories doubt whether Johnson can win elections
With few exceptions, the headlines in British newspapers read devastatingly for the prime minister on Tuesday: “A wounded victor,” headlined the “Times”, “Hollow victory tears the Tories apart,” said the front page of the “Daily Telegraph” – both are conservative Leaves. The left-liberal “Guardian” wrote: “Johnson clings to power despite voting humiliation”.
Even if Johnson has once again proven his reputation as a “cat with seven lives”, as a journalist recently called him: The 57-year-old is now badly injured. The affair of unlawful parties at No. Downing Street 10 during the corona lockdown should not be as easy to tick off as the prime minister imagines. Because Johnson not only tolerated the parties, but also celebrated some of them himself.
And the Tories’ doubts as to whether elections can still be won with Johnson are by no means off the table. Police branded the Prime Minister a lawbreaker and fined him for ‘Partygate’ – and a report into Downing Street partying’s excesses gave Johnson devastating testimony.
Internal party criticism of Boris Johnson
In recent polls, Brits increasingly questioned Johnson’s leadership skills. A clear majority took the view that he lied about “Partygate” and should resign.
But it wasn’t just his lax attitude toward his own rules that got Johnson’s opponents in his own party on the barricades. Tory MP and long-time Johnson companion Jesse Norman accused the prime minister of endangering the unity of the country, among other things. He described the confrontational course with Brussels on the Northern Ireland question as “economically very harmful, politically foolish and almost certainly illegal”. He described Johnson’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda as “ugly, likely counterproductive and of dubious legality.”
Johnson, on the other hand, does not have a long-term political agenda. “Instead, you’re just trying to campaign, constantly changing the subject and creating political and cultural divides mostly for your own benefit,” Norman continued.
Will Johnson meet the same fate as Theresa May?
By-elections are to be held in two English constituencies as early as June 23. In both, a defeat for the Tories is expected. The culprit will soon be found: the party leader and prime minister.
The only advantage for Johnson is that there is no clear favorite for his successor. Ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat threw their hats in the ring. Secretary of State Liz Truss also sees opportunities.
In the whole misery surrounding him, the prime minister is likely to have the warning example of his predecessor in mind: Theresa May survived a vote of confidence at the end of 2018, but was forced to resign a few months later due to a lack of support. However, whether Johnson will ultimately have better luck than his predecessor and whether he will be able to stabilize his power again – that seems highly uncertain after the vote on Monday evening.