Once again Boris Johnson has his back against the wall and once again the British Prime Minister is doing everything in his power to survive the crisis. But this time it could be too narrow even for the political survivor.
It’s not his second chance, and it’s not his third or fourth. The list of Boris Johnson scandals reads like a British version of “House of Cards”: allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in “Pestminster”, lockdown parties in Downing Street, party donations that finance his renovation work and last but not least, the helping hands , which he handed to his Tory buddies, whether to avert a lobbying affair or secure a seat in the House of Lords.
Johnson has made so many missteps so far in his tenure that the question arises as to when, between damage limitation and diversionary antics, the prime minister even found time to govern. Similar to the scheming “House of Cards” character “Frank” Underwood, who seizes political power with a system of lies, intrigue and corruption, Johnson’s series of scandals paints a picture of a man who thinks he is above the rules .
But recent resignations in his cabinet could shake the house of cards.
Boris Johnson is being overwhelmed by a wave of resignations
Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid resigned in quick succession on Tuesday evening in protest at Johnson’s style of government. Even if neither of the two explicitly mentioned the “Pestminster” and “Partygate” scandals of the past few weeks and months, the timing of the resignations spoke for itself.
Just minutes earlier, the prime minister had apologized for making his Tory colleague Chris Pincher Deputy Secretary of Parliament. Pincher resigned last week after sexually harassing two men. However, the pressure increased when it became known that there had been allegations of this type in the past. As with his numerous corona violations, Johnson had initially denied it in his tried and tested innocence manner, but then had to admit that he was aware of Pincher’s past. As Frank Underwood puts it so beautifully on “House of Cards”: “The gift of a good liar is to make people think that you lack the talent for lying.”
But that was just the beginning of chair-moving in London.
Over the course of Wednesday, more than a dozen members of the government handed in their resignations – including Treasury Secretary John Glenn, Family Secretary Will Quince, Education Secretary Robin Walker and Deputy Secretary of Transport Laura Trott. Quince said he had “no choice” after repeatedly “in good conscience” repeating government statements that were later found to be false. Trott justified her move by saying that she had lost trust in Johnson.
In the evening (as of 6 p.m.) within 24 hours, more than 30 resignations piled up on the prime minister’s desk.
“Johnson on the Precipice”: Was that it for the Prime Minister?
For the British press, the verdict has already been made. “Johnson on the brink” headlines three major newspapers on Wednesday – “The Times”, the “Guardian” and the “Financial Times”. The tenor: The “apparently coordinated” ministerial resignation could mean the “death blow for the prime minister”.
An hour of triumph for the opposition. Labor leader Keir Starmer immediately appealed to cabinet ministers to follow the example of Sunak and Javid – and called for new elections immediately. It is “clear that this government is collapsing now,” Starmer said. “The Tory party is corrupt and just changing a man won’t fix anything.”
The resignations of the two ministers have also increased the discord within their own ranks. “It’s time for Boris to go,” Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, one of Johnson’s harshest critics, told Sky News. “He can delay it for a few more hours if he wants. But I and a large part of the party are now determined that he has to be gone before the summer break: the sooner the better.” Former Tory Parliamentary Secretary Andrew Mitchell made a similar statement on BBC Newsnight. Johnson has “neither the character nor the temperament to be our Prime Minister” – the only question is how long the affair would drag on.
What could follow now
Well, if the man of the hour has his way, probably for a long time. Because Johnson will not give up his office voluntarily, as he made clear during the weekly question and answer session in Parliament. “The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he has a strong mandate, is to keep going. And that’s what I will do,” affirmed Johnson in the House of Commons – amid loud boos.
Johnson still feels he’s on the safe side: It’s only been a month since he survived a vote of no confidence in his group – albeit just barely. According to the rules of the Tory party, the prime minister is now protected from a new vote attempt for twelve months.
But his trump card could have a downside for Johnson. The focus of his critics is now on the so-called 1922 Committee, which could decisively change the rules of the game. It is expected that the board will be re-elected before the summer break. Should Johnson’s opponents gain the upper hand, nothing would stand in the way of a rule change leading to another no-confidence vote.
In “House of Cards” the power-obsessed Underwood comes to an abrupt end after actor Kevin Spacey is accused of sexual harassment and Netflix quickly gets rid of him – and thus the main character. It remains to be seen whether Johnson will be brought down so quickly in the end.
One thing is certain, his house of cards is shaking.
Sources: Guardian, BBC, NY Times, Sky News, with DPA and AFP footage