LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a dramatic no-confidence vote on Monday to stave off a rebellion that nonetheless left him reeling and heralds a turbulent period in British politics, as he struggles to stay in power and lead a divided Conservative Party.
The vote, 211 to 148, was short of the majority of Tory MPs needed to oust Johnson. But it has revealed how badly his support has eroded since last year, when a scandal erupted over revelations that he and his top aides had held parties in 10 Downing Street that violated government shutdown rules. More than 40 per cent of Tory MPs voted against him in an unexpectedly large rebellion.
Mr Johnson has vowed to stay, declaring that victory should put an end to months of speculation about his future. “It’s a convincing result, a definitive result,” the Downing Street prime minister said after the results of the secret ballot were announced.
“As a government, we can focus and move on to the things that really matter to people,” Johnson added.
However, history shows that Conservative prime ministers who have undergone such a vote – even if they win it – are usually fired from office, if not immediately, then within a few months.
Johnson received a smaller share of his party’s support on Monday than did his predecessor, Theresa May, in 2018, or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1990, when he survived a vote of no confidence. Mrs. May was forced out after six months. Mrs. Thatcher only lasted a few days.
Yet Mr Johnson is a unique figure in British politics, happily defying norms and often seeming immune to the rules of political attractiveness. With a comfortable majority in Parliament, his party has no risk of losing power. He could choose to weather the storm, claiming, as he did on Monday night, that he had a greater mandate than when he was first elected party leader in July 2019.
However, for the politician who led the Conservative Party to a landslide election victory in 2019 with a promise to “get Brexit done”, this was a painful downside — one that could expose him to political rebellion in his party, a strong opposition, and further weakening electoral setbacks. his credibility.
In the span of two and a half years, Johnson has gone from the holder of Britain’s most trusted voice – a famous politician who has redrawn the country’s political map – to a scandal-tainted figure whose job has been in jeopardy since the first reports of illegal parties. It appeared last November.
While Britons last week lauded Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year rule, they were turning against the anarchy of their premiership. On Friday, Mr Johnson received loud boos from the crowd at St Paul’s Cathedral when he and his wife, Carrie, attended a mass of thanks to the Queen.
That moment may have crystallized the loss of public support for Mr. Johnson, a morally resilient journalist-turned-politician who was often forgiven by Piccadilo by a public who had proven to be a master of charm.
However, Johnson is still in power so far, and under the party’s current rules, he cannot face another year-long vote of no-confidence. Your odds of removing it will depend on several wild cards.
Will his government turn against him, as Mrs. Thatcher did after the vote in 1990, precipitating her swift resignation? Will the party threaten to change the rules and hold a second vote of no-confidence, as he has suggested with Mrs May, to persuade her to negotiate her exit? Will Mr. Johnson bet on calling an early general election, seeking a mandate from the public that he cannot get from his own party?
Mr Johnson sought to dismiss questions about a new election on Monday night, saying only, “I am certainly not interested in an early election.”
In 1995, Prime Minister John Major fired, and won, a contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party, only to fall to a landslide defeat to Tony Blair and the Labor Party two years later. Given Britain’s economic woes and the Conservative Party’s weakness in opinion polls, some Conservatives fear a similar outcome this time around.
Opposition leaders used the outcome to portray Tory lawmakers as having supported the leadership of an illegal prime minister.
“Conservative MPs made their pick tonight,” said Labor leader Keir Starmer. They ignored the wishes of the British people. He said voters were “fed up – fed up – with a prime minister who is considered great but never fulfills.”
The result has left the Conservatives in turmoil and divided, after a tense day in which senior party members quarrel openly on social media. Some lawmakers argued that his position had become untenable.
Roger Gill, a Conservative MP, expressed surprise at the scale of the rebellion. Gill told the BBC: “I think the prime minister should go back to Downing Street tonight and think about where he’s going from here.”
But one of Mr Johnson’s advocates, James Cleverly, a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department, said: “He won it comfortably, and now we need to keep going.” He said of Mr Johnson’s electoral record, “No other candidate will ever have anything like this level of support.”
Johnson was greeted warmly as he addressed governors earlier in the afternoon, with some lawmakers pounding their offices in gestures of support, according to those present. But he also received difficult questions, and as the members then walked out of the commission room, it was evident that he had not persuaded all those who opposed him to call off their rebellion.
“I have told the prime minister that if he breaks the law he will have to go,” said Steve Baker, an influential pro-Brexit lawmaker who has called on Mr Johnson to step down. “He obviously broke the law, and he obviously agreed to break the law, so I stick to my word on record that he should go.”
Noting that he helped Mr Johnson become prime minister, Mr Baker called it a “horrific moment”.
Mr Cleverly said the prime minister was “in a very serious situation”, and his speech was “light on jokes and burdened with plans and policies”.
“He’s already got a plan for what he wants to do next, how to deliver on the promises we made in the 2019 general election,” he said, “how to continue to deliver on really tough times.”
The final act of this drama began on Sunday when Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative Party of Representatives Committee, told Mr Johnson that the threshold of 54 letters calling for a vote of no-confidence had been reached. Mr. Brady and Mr. Johnson then negotiated the timing of the vote, as the Prime Minister pressed for it to take place quickly.
This gave Mr. Johnson a tactical advantage as it deprived potential rivals of time to orchestrate a challenge to him. One potential contender, Jeremy Hunt, tried to move quickly, announcing on Monday that he would vote for the change. Hunt, a former health secretary and foreign secretary, lost to Johnson as party leader in 2019.
Nadine Doris, Johnson’s culture secretary and one of his most ardent advocates, criticized Mr Hunt for “destabilizing the party and the country in the service of your own ambition”. In a post on Twitter, she said, “You were wrong about almost everything, and you are wrong again now.”
The timing of the vote was also set by Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee, a four-day celebration that ended on Sunday. Mr. Brady was determined not to allow news of the vote of no confidence to overshadow the festivities. As a result, Britain’s political drama unfolded behind closed doors as the political establishment gathered to pay tribute to the Queen at a series of public events.
After being told the vote, Johnson and his wife, Carrie, attended a pageant at Buckingham Palace, where his face showed no signs of a brewing crisis. Several lawmakers who submitted letters calling for the vote asked Brady to be put off so that they would not be seen as interfering with the jubilee.
During a star-studded concert on Saturday evening, Johnson watched performers including Alicia Keys and Quinn as Conservative lawmakers scrutinized a note from unknown members circulating on their WhatsApp group, which warned that failure to fire Mr Johnson would bring the party to Havoc, according to a report in The Telegraph.
The memo’s frank assessment, published by The Telegraph, was that “Boris Johnson is no longer an electoral asset”.
Megan Specia Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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