Boris Johnson’s position as UK Prime Minister is at stake after a string of revelations about parties breaking the lockdown at his office and residence in Downing Street.
What could happen next?
Don’t bet on Johnson getting fired.
The 57-year-old former journalist has defied gravity throughout his career, encountering revelations about lies and extramarital affairs, racist language and controversial views.
“He’s always been able to get away with things mere mortals can’t,” former Prime Minister David Cameron recently told Sky News.
Johnson, likened by Cameron to a “greased piglet” for his ability to slip out of tight spaces, may see his apology this week for attending one of the events as enough to get him off the hook.
He could also be largely relieved of responsibility by a senior official, Sue Gray, who is doing a fact-finding inquiry into the claims.
The Times on Friday said Gray’s report would likely conclude there was no criminal violation of the coronavirus rules.
It also said Gray was not expected to speak out on whether Johnson violated the code of conduct for ministers, and would recommend disciplinary action for responsible staff.
It is plausible that Johnson wants to hold on so soon after gaining an 80-seat majority in an election just two years ago.
In his favor, the allegations of repeated rule-breaking have so far seen only five Conservative MPs publicly shouting at him, while his cabinet has largely rallied around him.
But if senior ministers break ranks, he could decide it’s time to leave, triggering internal leadership elections lasting up to six weeks.
Gray’s report will be examined to see how critical she is of Johnson himself.
Strong criticism could encourage more Tory MPs to stick their heads above the parapet and lack confidence in his leadership.
The Conservative party is taking shape for the brutal removal of leaders seen as an electoral obligation.
Margaret Thatcher was ousted by a leadership challenge in 1990, while Cameron resigned in the wake of his failed “stay” campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
His successor Theresa May resigned after losing party support for her EU divorce deal in 2019.
At least 15 percent or 54 of the 360 Tory MPs must write to the 1922 Committee of Backbench Conservative MPs to take on a leadership challenge.
The Daily Telegraph said on Friday that 30 have already done so, but the process is shrouded in secrecy.
London police have said they have been in contact with the Cabinet Office about the garden party claims, but said Thursday their next move would depend on what Gray says.
It has been criticized for stating that it would not retroactively investigate potential breaches of the coronavirus restrictions.
Should it launch a criminal investigation, the pressure on Johnson would increase.
In 2007, Tony Blair’s final year as prime minister was clouded by a police investigation into a cash-for-honours feud, but no charges were brought.
Johnson limps on
Johnson could survive the immediate fallout from Gray’s report, but the damage could exacerbate a series of other scandals that have eroded his political capital.
His party has been fined for failing to identify who paid for the costly renovation of his Downing Street flat, and accused of rewarding wealthy donors with seats in the unelected upper house of the Supreme Court.
Johnson’s failed attempt to change parliament’s disciplinary rules after a colleague broke lobbying rules led to a by-election defeat in a safe place last month.
Members of the Tory base are also dissatisfied with impending tax hikes and high inflation as the UK tries to recover from pandemic spending.
The next general election is scheduled for May 2024, but voters could still vote on him in local polls in May. A beating would see the Tory knives sharpened.
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