Boris Johnson’s terrible year only gets worse – POLITICO
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LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II endured a famousnnus horribilis back in 1992.
Two decades later, it is Her Majesty’s 14th Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who finds himself going through surely the worst year of his career on a rollercoaster.
In a video message last New Year’s Eve, a Johnson in a suit urged Britons to « make 2022 a good year ». But there have been few smiling moments since for the Tory leader – and 2022 is far from over with him.
POLITICO took stock of its year so far – and what remains to be done.
January: Partygate explodes
The so-called Partygate scandal turned serious in mid-January when Labor leader Keir Starmer called on Johnson to resign after the Prime Minister admitted to attending a ‘bring your own booze’ rally during the COVID lockdown in Downing Street Garden.
And all hell broke loose at the end of the month when the Metropolitan Police – who had refused to look into the allegations until now – suddenly announced an official inquiry into potential criminal activity at No 10. questions began to be asked about whether Johnson would last the year.
February: the main employees leave
The Downing Street drama escalated in February with the shock resignation of Munira Mirza, Johnson’s policy chief and one of his closest and longest aides.
Mirza’s departure precipitated a wide clearing of senior Downing Street officials, including the Prime Minister’s communications director Jack Doyle, his chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds – something No 10 billed as a « reset » of Johnson’s government. That did little to stem the tide of bad news.
March: budget flops… and Rishi flops too
You know a prime minister is in trouble when the flop of a multi-billion pound government spending plan is seen as mild relief in issue 10. But Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring financial statements were widely seen as overly conservative given the economic environment. headwinds – and suddenly Johnson’s heir apparent found his popularity beginning to plummet.
The Prime Minister’s joy at the impending downfall of his main leadership rival may have been tempered somewhat, however, by the wider discontent evident with his government.
April: having a good old time
In April, Scotland Yard began imposing fines on people found guilty of breaking lockdown rules while partying in Downing Street. And humiliating for Johnson, he and his wife Carrie were charged £50 for an illegal Cabinet Room birthday party in 2020. Johnson apologized and paid, vowing things would change.
Back in the real world, Britons have seen their energy bills soar by a record 54%.
May: Election defeats and the Sue Gray report
In May’s local elections, the Tories suffered heavy losses of nearly 500 councilors in England, confirming the belief of some nervous Tory MPs that their leader was losing electoral appeal.
The conclusion of the Metropolitan Police’s Partygate inquiry offered an unexpected respite, with no further fines for Johnson himself. But the toe-curling findings – and the photographs – in Gray’s report, published the following week, sparked a fresh round of letters of defiance towards Johnson from Tory MPs.
June: vote of confidence by the Conservatives
Facing an internal vote of confidence is normally the beginning of the end for a Conservative prime minister. And Johnson won Monday’s poll much narrowly than expected, with more than two in five MPs voting against him – a result worse than those suffered by doomed former leaders Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Theresa May.
As the half of the year approaches, Johnson will now have to reckon with emboldened opposition within his own party if he is to fight for the next election as Tory leader.
a burning summer
The rebels begin to organize
The confidence vote forced Tory leadership candidates such as Jeremy Hunt and Penny Mordaunt out of the shadows. Although neither has made a formal bid for the top job, the conservative rebels now feel they have at least potential leaders around which to unite.
Hunt became the most explicit challenger, saying on Monday that ministers are « not giving the British people the leadership they deserve » and that the Tories must « change or lose ». There’s no turning back – and that means there’s now a senior curator openly auditioning for Johnson’s job.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON’S APPROVAL RATING
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Brexit eruption… and resignation look
Johnson is preparing to publish controversial laws next week to override swathes of the Brexit deal protocol for trade between Northern Ireland and the island of Britain – much to the dismay of moderate Tories worried about the impact on the international position of the United Kingdom.
While Brexit-voting MPs will relish the red meat on offer, the Prime Minister runs the risk of triggering high-profile and damaging resignations from ministers – and even senior government lawyers – concerned about the legality of the Brexit. decision.
By-election bloodbath… with more threat?
The Tories are bracing for a double whammy of losses on June 23, when they defend two constituencies – Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton – in successful by-elections.
If both seats were to be lost, it would demonstrate to nervous Tory MPs that the party is now losing support in working-class towns voting for Brexit and who first voted for the party in 2019, and in leafy rural areas and well-to-do with huge conservative majorities.
And worryingly for No 10, there could be more by-elections this year. A Tory MP has already been ordered to stay away from parliament after being arrested on suspicion of rape. And it emerged this week that Conservative MP Alok Sharma, chair of the COP26 climate talks, is in the running to be the UN’s new climate chief. If he were to take on the role, he would overrule a narrow majority in his seat at Reading West.
An intervention by former Treasury minister Jesse Norman this week demonstrated the obvious dangers of any government reshuffle.
Norman, sacked from his post last autumn, delivered a scathing assessment of the government on Monday as he very publicly submitted a letter of censure to the Prime Minister.
Johnson is reportedly planning a reshuffle later this summer, however, with allies urging him to reward his most loyal supporters and fire ministers who haven’t given him their full backing. This would create potentially dangerous new enemies.
The autumn of our lives
1922 rule changes
Although under current party rules Johnson cannot face another vote of confidence for another year, there is nothing to prevent the executive of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs – which is overseeing the process – from changing that stipulation.
Just three years ago, an attempt to change those same rules to oust Theresa May quickly prompted her resignation as prime minister.
Backbench leader Graham Brady, who has bad blood with Johnson after No 10 quietly tried to oust him as 1922 committee chairman, has left the door open for a future rule change this week. “Of course, it is technically possible that the laws could be changed in the future,” Brady told Times Radio.
The last remaining investigation into Partygate is perhaps the most dangerous – a parliamentary inquiry into whether Johnson misled the House of Commons with his public statements about the scandal.
The investigation is being led by the House of Commons Privileges Committee, made up of four Tory MPs, two Labor and one Scottish National Party MP. Three of the Tory MPs are independent-minded members of the 2019 intake, and in theory it would only take one rebel to tip the scales in favor of the Prime Minister.
If the group concluded that Johnson had misled the Commons, it would officially be a matter of resignation under the cabinet code. Whether the Prime Minister chooses to adhere to this code is another matter.
winter of discontent
One thing Tory MPs are genuinely united on is a desire to see tax cuts – and Johnson promised to introduce them in a bid to curb rebel numbers in Monday’s confidence vote.
But come the fall budget – actually due between October and early December – he will find himself in a dangerous position, with strong pressure from his party to cut taxes at a time of weak economic growth, while spending more to help families to cope with the rising cost of living. It will be impossible to please everyone.
Bills, bills, bills
As the government ponders how to manage the economy, in October the UK energy regulator will announce another huge rise in energy bills, to reflect an increase in wholesale gas prices.
Conservative and Labor strategists are united in their belief that the rising cost of living will be the central issue in the next general election. Johnson’s government has already faced scathing criticism that it is not doing enough to lessen its impact on ordinary people.
So if Partygate doesn’t finish it, there’s a good chance the price hike will.