Whoever finally wields the knife, few MPs believe Boris Johnson can stay

Boris Johnson’s allies hoped the moment of maximum danger had passed on Tuesday evening, after the shock resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak were followed – albeit after a long pause – by promises of support from the rest of his cabinet.

Handpicked by the prime minister for their loyalty, most opted to stay in place rather than head for the backbenches.

But even by later that evening, it had become clear that the exit of the two cabinet big beasts was only the beginning of a comprehensive collapse in support for his leadership.

Pressure is coming from both the top and bottom of the parliamentary party, with a string of ministerial resignations, and at the same time, a growing number of previously loyal backbenchers saying they have changed their minds and can no longer support him.

That group includes the former loyalists Jonathan Gullis and Lee Anderson, previously to be found offering noisy support for Johnson from the Tory benches at prime minister’s questions (PMQ).

The precise mechanism for Johnson’s departure remains unclear. Il 1922 executive could change the rules to allow an imminent vote of no confidence in the coming days – or even decide to send a delegation to No 10 to tell him to go, for the sake of his party.

In alternativa, a cabinet minister could take on the role of telling Johnson his time is up. Michael Gove’s spokesperson did not deny that the housing secretary had done just that on Wednesday morning, urging the prime minister to quit.

Or the wave of resignations could simply become overwhelming, particularly when combined with the drip, drip of no-confidence letters – both underlining the fact that support for him is falling away.

Even filling the vacancies created in the past few hours, including key posts such as City minister, looks like a tall order given how many backbenchers have either already resigned, or publicly declared they no longer have confidence in Johnson.

The grim-faced backbenchers sitting behind the prime minister at PMQs certainly did not look like enthusiastic recruits.

Johnson heroically claimed that Keir Starmer wanted him out of a job because he would win the Tories the next general election; but the byelections in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield suggest quite the opposite. Both in the “red wall”, and deep in rural Tory heartlands, the prime minister has become electorally toxic.

Johnson’s aim of moving on and “getting on with the job”, was not helped by the fact that his handling of the Chris Pincher scandal continues to infuriate Conservative MPs.

The backbencher Gary Sambrook asked a blistering question at PMQs, claiming Johnson had suggested to MPs as he toured the Commons tea room on Tuesday that Pincher’s victim was drunk.

Johnson did not take the opportunity to deny he had said so; nor did his press secretary when asked about it by journalists afterwards.

The prime minister also claimed to have suspended the whip from Pincher immediately on learning about the allegations – an outright untruth, given that it took Downing Street most of Friday to get around to doing that, despite Pincher having resigned on Thursday evening.

Nel frattempo, the steady stream of resignations and declarations of no confidence continued, with Tory MPs finding increasingly more creative ways of explaining why, having backed Johnson until this week, they could do so no longer.

Alec Shelbrooke said until now he had believed the Ukraine war made it important to have stable leadership; Victoria Atkins said she could no longer, “pirouette around our fractured values”.

Whatever the precise timeline, tuttavia, and whoever ultimately wields the knife, it was hard to find anyone at Westminster on Wednesday who did not believe Johnson’s chaotic premiership is reaching an ignominious end.

I commenti sono chiusi.