Written by Amy Beecham
It’s been a tumultuous 24 hours for the prime minister. But how long can he really “hang on in there” for?
Over the past three years of Boris Johnson’s premiership, there have been plenty of moments when his leadership has been widely questioned.
His actions have ranged from embarrassing to dangerous to downright undemocratic, from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to the taxpayer-funded£840 a-roll wallpaper used to decorate his Downing Street apartment.
When Sue Gray’s report into the ’Partygate’ scandal was released, which saw senior members of government, including Johnson himself, fined by the Metropolitan police for breaking lockdown rules despite insisting we all stay inside, many thought he was finished.
How could the leader of a country possibly bounce back from lying to parliament and the public? Yet he did.
With ’Carriegate’, in which it was revealed that Johnson tried to fix his now-wife with a high-level government job after they were caught together in a compromising position, the same thing happened again.
Despite supporting refugee deportation flights to Rwanda andfailing to properly address the cost of living crisis, Boris Johnson has always appeared to come out relatively unscathed by impropriety, backed by both a loyal party and public following.
That was until yesterday (5 July), a dramatic day that saw 15 Conservative MPs, including chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid, quit within a 24-hour period, spurred on by the prime minister’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Tory MP Chris Pincher.
A further 12 parliamentary private secretaries and trade envoys have also left their posts.
Downing Street had maintained that Johnson was not aware of specific allegations against Pincher before a top civil servant confirmed that he was briefed “in person” about an allegation of inappropriate behaviour against the disgraced MP back in 2019.
The PM has since apologised for appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip, saying it “was a mistake” and “in hindsight the wrong thing to do”.
Nevertheless, it sparked a major walkout from within the cabinet and backbenches.
“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak wrote in his letter of resignation,adding: “I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Similarly, Javid stated that the British people “expect integrity from their government” but voters now believed Mr Johnson’s administration was not competent or “acting in the national interest”.
A host of MPs and other junior ministers quickly followed suit, with the party’s vice chairman Bim Afolami quitting live on air while appearing on Talk TV.
Six ministers later resigned from their positions at the same time in a joint letter to the PM describing how they “must ask, for the good of the party, and the country, [he] step aside”.
As reports of a second vote of no confidence swirl, commentators have called it “devastating” for Johnson. The prime minister narrowly saw off a challenge to his leadership in early June after at least 54 MPs – 15% of the party’s representatives in the Commons – sent a letter of no confidence to the 1922 Committee.
So the question on everybody lips: will this be the straw that finally breaks the incompetent camel’s back?
Of course, a number of ministers including Nadine Dorries, Nadhim Zahawi and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab remain loyal in their defence of him.
“I’m not sure anyone actually doubted this, however, I am 100% [email protected], the PM who consistently gets all the big decisions right,” Dorries tweeted in the wake of the resignations.
However, it does feel like the tide could very well be turning.
Today, during prime minister’s questions, Tory MP Gary Sambrook received cheers as he called on Johnson to resign. Former cabinet minister David Davis also urged him to put the “interests of the country” first.
A snap poll conducted by YouGov yesterday found that the majority of Conservative voters and two-thirds of Britons think Johnson should resign as prime minister, marking the first time that the number calling for him to leave had been higher than those who want him to stay.
Previously, each time Johnson did something many would deem ‘inexcusable’, he has somehow scraped by.
His mistakes and misdemeanors are something people are angry about on Facebook for a week before the mood begins to settle. That is, until another scandal ‘rocks’ him, he refuses to resign and the whole cycle starts again.
But for the cat that seems to have had not just nine but endless lives, could the end be near?
As Labour MP Zarah Sultana rightly pointed out in a tweet: “Sunak, Javid and all the other Tory MPs abandoning Boris Johnson aren’t acting from ‘principle’ or ‘honour’. They’ve known what he’s like from the beginning.
“They’re abandoning him because they now think his leadership threatens their interests. That’s it.”
Johnson has vowed to “hang on in there”, but it certainly feels like a shift has taken place. Whether it leads to a backbench coup or resignation remains to be seen.
For now, we’re left watching for more walkouts and waiting for the inevitable to happen. Because it will.
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