UK’s Boris Johnson barely survives no-confidence vote

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UK's Boris Johnson barely survives no-confidence vote

It’s not time to go for BoJo — yet.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson narrowly defeated a no-confidence vote by members of his Conservative Party on Monday, but the outcome pointed to deep divisions less than three years after Johnson led the Tories to their biggest election victory since the zenith of Margaret Thatcher in the mid-1980s.

The 211-148 result means Johnson cannot be challenged from within the Conservative ranks for one full year. However, the outcome also means that more than half the House of Commons either opposes Johnson or has expressed no confidence in him.

Sensing an opportunity to force an early election, the opposition Labour Party announced it would put forward its own no-confidence motion for the whole House to vote on Tuesday.

Monday’s vote was called after 54 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters to the 1922 Committee — the organization of back-bench Tories — demanding that Johnson’s leadership be put to the test in the aftermath of the “Partygate” scandal.

“Partygate” refers to 16 social gatherings the prime minister and members of his staff attended during the same period when Johnson and the British government put social distancing measures in place during the height of COVID-19. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson narrowly defeated a no-confidence vote by members of his Conservative Party.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson narrowly survived a no-confidence vote by members of his Conservative Party.
Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson narrowly defeated a no-confidence vote by members of his Conservative Party Monday.
The challenge to Johnson’s authority came less than three years after his monumental victory for the Conservative Party.
UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

A highly anticipated report on the scandal released last month found that the behavior of the government was “difficult to justify” as it asked citizens “to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives.”

“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time,” senior civil servant Sue Gray wrote

Johnson also was fined 50 pounds ($63) by police for attending one party, making him the first prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

At the time, Johnson gave a half-hearted apology to the House of Commons, saying, “I am humbled and I have learned a lesson.” 

Boris Johnson in front of a table filled with bottles at a November 2020 event.
Johnson in front of a table filled with bottles at a November 2020 event.
UK Cabinet Office

On Monday, Johnson implored his parliamentary colleagues to keep him in power amid what he called “domestic political drama” and warned that Labour “would be an utter disaster in office.”

Not all had been convinced by his case.

“Today’s decision is change or lose,” said Jeremy Hunt, who ran against Johnson for the Conservative leadership in 2019 but has largely refrained from criticizing him since. “I will be voting for change.”

Lawmaker Jesse Norman, a longtime Johnson supporter, said the prime minister had “presided over a culture of casual law-breaking” and had left the government “adrift and distracted.”

Monday's vote was called after 54 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters to the 1922 Committee asking for his removal from office.
Monday’s vote was called after 54 Conservative Members of Parliament submitted letters to the 1922 Committee asking for his removal from office.
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Another Tory legislator, John Penrose, quit Monday as the prime minister’s “anticorruption champion,” saying Johnson had breached the government code of conduct with his Partygate behavior.

After 12 years of Conservative prime ministers, recent polls indicate that British voters are set to give Labour a majority at the next election, which must be held no later than January 2025. The next pressure point for Johnson will come later this month, when the Tories could lose two by-elections triggered by Conservative MPs resigning over sex scandals.

A startling sign of Johnson’s dropping popularity came on Friday, when he was booed as he arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral for a thanksgiving service celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Despite the drama, Johnson’s ministers have expressed support for the party leader.

Boris as fined 50 pounds ($63) by police for attending one party, making him the first prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.
Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($63) by police for attending one party, making him the first prime minister sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.
UK Cabinet Office

“The Prime Minister has my 100% backing in today’s vote and I strongly encourage colleagues to support him,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, one of the favorites to succeed him, wrote in a tweet.

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay, a Johnson ally, said toppling the leader now would be “indefensible.”

“The problems we face aren’t easy to solve” but Conservatives have the right plan to tackle them, he wrote on the Conservative Home website.

“To disrupt that progress now would be inexcusable to many who lent their vote to us for the first time at the last general election, and who want to see our prime minister deliver the changes promised for their communities.”

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