London, Jul 6 (PTI) For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this year has been about firefighting one crisis after the next as he once again faces a hostile crowd in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
It follows a night of turmoil after his former close ally, Rishi Sunak, resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer without mincing his words about the failing levels of competency within the government. He was joined by another senior minister, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who stormed out as Chancellor over two years ago under Johnson’s leadership but was brought back into the fold.
There is no doubt that the latest developments reflect a deepening political crisis for the Conservative Party government and most believe it is a question of when rather than if Johnson, 58, will be replaced by a new leader. There is a general view that he will have to be taken out kicking and screaming, and has no plans to make a quiet exit.
The Tory party has already tried once to unseat Johnson as its leader, with a vote of no-confidence last month which he survived but only just – as it exposed the deep discontentment within party ranks with 41 per cent of his MPs voting against him as leader.
However, this meant he was safe from another leadership challenge for a year and crucially his Cabinet had stayed steadfast behind him during that narrow win. Now, with two high-profile Cabinet exits, that support system has also collapsed and many are counting down the days, if not hours, before he is forcibly shown the door.
Behind the scenes, the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers is also at work on trying to amend rules to try and make him face another no-confidence vote sooner than the current one-year time limit.
The build up of the party mutiny has been a slow-burn since the first partygate allegations of COVID law-breaking parties within Downing Street and other UK government offices first hit the headlines towards the end of last year. It blew up into a full-blown crisis earlier this year, forcing Johnson to apologise multiple times in the House of Commons after initially insisting no rules were broken.
The internal investigation ordered by him, led by top civil servant Sure Gray, proved scathing in its criticism of leadership failures at the heart of government and even led to a police inquiry and fines issued to Johnson for a birthday party for him in the Cabinet Room of Downing Street in June 2020.
While the Opposition piled the pressure on the government, the murmurings from within his own party grew into a rebellion and ended in the confidence vote. That mutiny, though temporarily curtailed, was reignited when the Conservatives faced their worst by-election result in history towards the end of last month. It was seen as a referendum on Johnson’s leadership, which his critics believed he had quite definitively lost. However, Johnson insisted he had no intention of resigning and wanted to get on with the job at hand.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back seems to have been a relatively low-key exit of the party’s Deputy Chief Whip, ironically in charge of party discipline, who resigned last week admitting drunken misbehaviour.
Chris Pincher was later suspended but it was the changing stories from Downing Street on how much the Prime Minister knew about his past misconduct when he appointed him to a key government post that proved fatal.
Lord Simon McDonald, former permanent secretary in the UK Foreign Office, set off a domino effect when he wrote to the Parliament’s standards commissioner saying Downing Street made “inaccurate claims” about Pincher and that Johnson was personally briefed about his behaviour.
It led to Johnson finally admitting on air that he made a mistake in hiring Pincher: “In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do and I apologise to everyone who has been badly affected by it.” However, by then it proved disastrous as ministers were said to be furious about being briefed just hours before that the Prime Minister had no direct knowledge of the misconduct.
According to reports, while Sunak and Javid did not coordinate their Cabinet exits, they are both said to have been rankled by these incorrect briefings from Downing Street.
There is also conjecture over whether it is a move aimed at distancing themselves from a sinking ship in preparation for a leadership bid of their own when the time comes for a Tory leadership contest.
While Sunak has been long considered an heir apparent to the top job of Prime Minister, his popularity within the party took some beating with his tax policies in recent months. Javid is seen as a possible contender along with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and also the new Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi.
It now remains to be seen what political course awaits Johnson, who entered Downing Street with a thumping majority in the December 2019 general election. PTI AK ZH AKJ ZH ZH ZH
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