Surviving a political storm

June 12, 2022

Boris Johnson defeats a no-confidence resolution within his Tory Party by 211 votes to 148

Surviving a political storm


espite winning the vote of confidence, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not out of the woods yet as the rebel Tory MPs still want to oust him.

By elections are being held in Wakefield as well as Tiverton and Honiton on June 23. Labour and Liberal Democrats are expected to win these. Johnson also faces an investigation by the cross-party Commons privileges committee into whether he misled the parliament in repeatedly insisting he knew nothing about illicit social events.

Tory party rules stipulate that if a leader garners enough support to continue after winning a no confidence vote, they will not face another vote for a year. Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who voted against the prime minister, said he understands the backbench Tory MPs are now looking at altering the rules so the leader of the Tory party could face another confidence vote within a year of surviving one.

Johnson also faces 9 percent inflation, millions pushed into energy insecurity and a possible poverty crunch point in the autumn.

Also, the rebel Conservative MPs are drawing up plans for vote strikes to paralyse the law-making process. Some of the 148 MPs who voted to oust the PM say they will try to impede his government’s legislative agenda, as had happened at the end of the Theresa May era, by abstaining on key laws. They plan to start with a showdown over a bill to override sections of the Northern Ireland protocol to be published within days. They say they want to flex their muscles and prove that they are not going away. Although Chief Whip Chris Heaton opposed the speedy reshuffling in the cabinet, repelled Tory MPs believe a reshuffle will be carried out to promote those offered jobs in exchange for their loyalty and axe those who refused to publicly support Johnson.

Though there is little appetite for an immediate slashing of the length of time Johnson is immune from another no-confidence vote from 12 months to six; some rebels are eyeing elections in the autumn to the 1922 Committee executive, which oversees such contests, as a de facto decision about whether that has changed.

This is not the end of the story. A senior Tory member, Umer Ahmed, says that the Tory divisions are not just about personalities and office parties but about policies. “None of the reasons why Johnson’s critics called for this week’s contest will go away. These things make a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely,” says Ahmed.

Tory rebels have vowed to keep trying to force Boris Johnson from office, as the prime minister’s allies admitted he was reaching “the beginning of the end” after the no confidence vote.

A senior Tory member, Umer Ahmed, says that the Tory divisions are not just about personalities and office parties but about policies. “None of the reasons why Johnson's critics called for this week's contest will go away. These things make a decisive change of government at the next election much more likely,” says Ahmed.

Before the recent confidence vote on Boris Johnson, four prime ministers had successfully faced a vote of confidence. They included Theresa May, who met a confidence vote in December 2018 after she lost the support of Tory colleagues on whether she would be able to deliver a Brexit deal as prime minister. In 2003, Ian Duncan Smith faced a no-confidence vote following reports that he was unelectable and due to an investigation by the parliamentary watchdog into his wife’s employment. Duncan Smith lost the confidence vote by 90 votes to 75. In 1995 John Major triggered a leadership contest against himself to face off Eurosceptic critics within his party. In 1990 Margaret Thatcher became the only prime minister to be removed from office by a party leadership ballot in November 1990. After losing a general election to the Labour party in October 1974, Edward Heath agreed with the 1922 Committee to hold a leadership contest in February 1975. After he unexpectedly finished behind Thatcher, he stood aside following the first ballot.

PM Boris Johnson has had a long history of crisis. He became the new leader of the Conservative party following the resignation of his predecessor, Theresa May.

In September 2019, the first of many chaotic scenes occurred when Johnson shut down parliament following his sixth defeat in six days, as MPs voted to block a snap election and force the publication of No 10’s secret preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

In November 2019, he was facing Jennifer Arcuri, a US businesswoman, who made a series of allegations against Johnson, including that they had a sexual relationship while he was married and mayor of London. Johnson has never publicly accepted that he had an affair with Arcuri, but has not denied it either. In February 2020, Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, announced that they were engaged and expecting a baby in early summer.

In June 2021, PM’s close friend and health secretary, Matt Hancock, resigned as he was caught on camera kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo in his Whitehall office, breaching Covid guidelines.

Political analysts believe that Boris Johnson is safe for now. Under Conservative party rules, his win by 211 votes to 148 in a no-confidence vote of Tory MPs means he will not face a similar challenge for 12 months. But life is not necessarily about to become much easier for the prime minister for several reasons in the coming days.

Prof Jon Tonge, who teaches British politics at the University of Liverpool, accurately forecast the result of the no confidence motion. In a tweet posted 58 minutes before the result was announced, Tonge correctly predicted 211 MPs, or 59 percent, would back Johnson. He also indicated that 147 or 41 percent would rebel.

The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, daily Jang and The News in London

Surviving a political storm