Britain’s PM Boris Johnson continues to pressurize despite rebellion in his own party
LONDON: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened his cabinet on Tuesday, vowing to “move on with the job” after surviving a confidence vote by Conservative MPs that left him severely vulnerable.
The crisis-ridden leader has claimed that Monday evening’s dramatic vote, in which 211 Tory party lawmakers supported him as prime minister but 148 against, was a “decisive result”.
But most critics and commentators disagreed, arguing that his authority was greatly undermined and that his days in Downing Street were numbered.
The Times called him “a wounded winner”, while his former employers in the Daily Telegraph branded it “a hollow victory that teared the Tories apart”.
The vote – two years after the Brexit architect won a landslide victory in the general election – was brought in after a string of scandals that have left the Conservative Party standing.
Chief among them was the “Partygate” controversy over lockdown-breaking incidents in Downing Street, which sparked public outcry and saw him become the UK’s first prime minister to break the law.
Johnson, 57, needed the support of 180 of 359 Conservative lawmakers to escape the vote. The defeat would have meant the end of his time as party leader and prime minister.
Much of Johnson’s cabinet publicly supported him in a secret ballot, but more than 40 percent of the parliamentary party – and almost certainly the majority of backbenchers – did not, with rebels coming from various Tory factions.
He cannot be re-challenged for a year under current party rules, which leaves little time for a new leader to emerge before the next general election until 2024.
In previous Tory confidence ballots, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May scored better than Johnson, yet despite winning less of their votes, both eventually resigned after deciding that their premiership had suffered.
Johnson has vehemently refused to resign over “Partygate” and now shows no signs of doing so.
“Today, I pledge to continue delivering,” Johnson said before the cabinet meeting.
“We’re on the side of hard-working British people, and we’re going to get on with the work.”
Johnson has spent months fighting for his political survival after a series of controversies culminated in the “Partygate” saga.
Various opinion polls have shown that the public thinks he lied about the scam and that he should resign.
His Tories have lost secure seats several times in by-elections and have performed disappointingly in recent local elections.
He is expected to lose two upcoming by-elections later this month, including one in an earlier rock-solid Conservative constituency.
Johnson was booed by parts of an enthusiastic patriotic crowd outside St. Paul’s Cathedral before a religious service for the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II last Friday.
Rival parties tried to capitalize on Monday’s vote. The smaller opposition Liberal Democrats urged the rebels to resign from their party and sit as an independent, while Johnson remained leader.
However, the Conservative MPs who voted against him had little chance of heeding the suggestion and were spending their time.
“It’s far from a conclusive result – it’s not a defeat, but it’s not a victory,” said Tobias Ellwood, who has been calling on Johnson to resign since February.
He said he had accepted Monday’s result “for the time being”.
Johnson looks to move forward with a series of speeches, policy announcements and high-profile appearances on the world stage this month.
This includes planning a joint speech with Finance Minister Rishi Sunak on tackling the deteriorating cost of living.
He is expected to travel to Rwanda for the Commonwealth leaders meeting, then to Germany and Spain for the G7 and NATO summits.
Speculation is also rife that he may reshuffle his senior ministerial team to reward those who support him.
But there are many questions whether he can regain his authority and the confidence of the voters.
Conservative Grand William Hague – a former leader of the party – argued that he “should seek a respectable exit”.
In The Times, he wrote, “There have been words that cannot be taken back, reports published that cannot be erased, and votes cast that show a greater level of disapproval than any Tory leader.”
“Deep inside, they should recognize this, and change their minds to take them out in a way that saves the party and the country from such anguish and uncertainties.”