An official’s report on the allegedly illegal meetings in Downing Street will decide the future of the prime minister
Boris Johnson has suspended a trip to the city of Burnley, which he had planned for this Thursday, and will limit the number of people with whom he will have contact in the coming week to a minimum. The reason is that an unidentified relative suffers from covid. Those who cohabit with positives are not required to isolate themselves, but Johnson will take precautions this time that go beyond his duty.
The world from which he isolates himself is divided over his present and future. There is astonishment because after apologizing, on Wednesday, in Parliament, for having attended a social gathering on May 20, 2020 when his government prohibited such meetings, Johnson later explained to deputies from his party that he does not believe he has done nothing contrary to the rules. Thus, he confessed that his request for an apology to the population in a serious tone had been insincere.
There is also division. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was among the first to receive such an explanation from the prime minister. Minutes later, he publicly called for his resignation. Ross had already argued that Johnson would have to resign if it were revealed that he lied to Parliament denying that he had attended meetings that broke confinement rules.
William Rees-Mogg, Minister for Relations with the House of Commons, who sits on the Cabinet bench wearing a personalized face mask from his old school, Eton, which Johnson also attended, called Ross a “lightweight.” . However, he praised the minister for Scotland, Alister Jack, “a more substantial and important figure” who supports the prime minister. Jack also went to a private school, unlike Ross.
Rees-Mogg, who later acknowledged that he does not know the name of the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, but he does know the name of the minister for Wales, extended the unpleasant lawsuit over Johnson among the ‘Tories’ to the autonomous parliaments, with personal contempt and underlining the importance supreme of those who rule in London.
Three other Conservative MPs publicly called for Johnson’s resignation. Caroline Nokes is a repeat critic of Johnson, and also of her father, whom she accused of sexual groping at a party conference in 2003. William Wragg is one of the new Conservatives capable of winning seats from Labor in Northern cities. And Sir Roger Gale is a veteran who upholds the tradition of resigning when a hoax of Parliament is discovered.
Unique characters fire blank shots at the leader and those who aspire to replace him apply their strategies to be well placed. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak absented himself from the House of Commons on Wednesday from the leader’s mock contrition and went to the beautiful region of Devon to visit a biotech company.
While the billionaire in charge of the Treasury described Johnson’s pardon request as correct, already back in London, and encouraged everyone to wait for the result of the investigation by high-ranking official Sue Gray into the allegedly illegal meetings, the second favorite for to be the next head of government, Liz Truss, now responsible for Foreign Affairs, expressed her support for Johnson in percentages. It is, he said, 100%.
The circumstances of this beginning of the new year evoke the last days of John Major. He was not defeated in 1997 by the ambiguous charm of Tony Blair – who won fewer votes than Major in 1992 but a landslide victory by large Conservative abstention – but by the exhaustion of a long period of Conservative governance and the irreconcilable division of the parliamentary group.
Johnson’s popular charisma would have camouflaged that crack that has been dragging on since the mandates of David Cameron and Theresa May. Despite his brazen opportunism, his personal and work disorder, his poor parliamentary oratory, he seemed the only one capable of winning an election. Television and his humor gave him great fame. His leadership now appears to be disintegrating.
His sharpest rival is Dominic Cummings, the first person he recruited to make sense of his head of government. Badly fired in November 2019, a leader without a clear agenda of his own has received successive blows from his former assistant. Cummings revealed last week the organization of the May 20 meeting, which leaves Johnson missing.
But the candidates to replace Johnson do not inspire optimism, and tradition has it that those who show a lot of ambition to unseat a Conservative leader do not replace him. The Prime Minister’s public absence means that the countdown to the publication of the results of the investigation of civil servant Sue Gray has now become the most important event in British politics.
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