Tory conspirators see local elections as next chance to oust Boris Johnson | Boris Johnson
Tory MPs are eyeing the fallout from the dreadful local election results as their next chance to oust Boris Johnson, with the Prime Minister preparing to apologize for his Partygate punishment.
But Downing Street is optimistic Johnson has “crossed the Rubicon” after receiving his first criminal warrant earlier this month and will hold on in the face of further charges.
Johnson will face a challenging day on Tuesday and will be forced to deny misleading the Commons about his knowledge of illegal gatherings in No 10 by clarifying his earlier insistence that no Covid rules have been broken.
Even his strongest defenders feel their loyalty has not been returned, with one saying they were greeted with a “slap in the face”. “All I have to do for that is a Boris-shaped slap on my cheek,” they added.
In his first statement to Parliament since the penalty was imposed, the Prime Minister is expected to urge Conservative MPs to focus on “the huge priorities that we need to achieve for the people” before addressing the full parliamentary assembly privately later in the evening Tory party turns.
Before his statement, Johnson will participate in a conference call chaired by US President Joe Biden with the leaders of France, Germany, Japan, the EU and NATO, where they will discuss increasing defense arms sales to Ukraine and options for further sanctions will speak Russia.
Opposition parties are urging Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to give MPs a vote on whether to charge Johnson with contempt of Parliament or face an investigation by the Privileges Committee.
They believe the fines handed down by police for several events during the Downing Street lockdown show the Prime Minister misled the Commons when he said in December that “all the guidelines in No 10 have been fully followed “.
While few Tories have publicly criticized Johnson since he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined by police, some raised concerns the Prime Minister would not be contrite enough in his statement on Tuesday.
“I would fine him again for not learning his lesson,” raged one. Another accused him of “arrogance”.
It has been suggested that Johnson would cite an exception to the strict Covid rules, saying he was at his place of work and “going to events in a professional capacity”.
Most of those looking to oust the prime minister have their eyes on the next month if they believe further fines may be in the way and poor local election results would show the damaging effect Partygate is having on Conservative popularity.
“Nothing that could be terrible will happen until after the May elections,” said a senior MP.
Another added: “I don’t think this week will be a problem. But I suspect the bigger challenges are yet to come. That the Prime Minister will be fined multiple times will be very bad, but by far the biggest problem is the feeling that the government is now tired and incoherent. That makes me nervous.”
A third predicted: “The peers’ spell could be broken if their councilors start losing in May and if the Wakefield by-election goes badly.”
Some of those who went public with their calls for Johnson’s resignation in January have warned colleagues against following the lawsuit and said privately that given the setback and isolation they have faced, their mental health is was severely affected.
So those who were considering filing a no-confidence letter said they wanted to wait for the right moment.
“I’m not going to take the shot unless I’m confident I can beat him,” said one.
Another admitted: “That unfortunate Easter bunny is keeping his powder dry.” A third skeptical MP said Johnson would “try the business-as-usual attitude” but warned: “There is public confidence but private concerns about his future, expressed by many people.”
Election expert and fellow Conservative Robert Hayward said a poor showing in next month’s election, coinciding with further penalties, “could trigger the whole process again from January”.
However, he added that if the party exceeded expectations and the war in Ukraine continued to dominate, “there are every prospects that the results will not be clear and may not trigger anything.”
Johnson’s allies were confident that he would emerge relatively unscathed from the aftermath of his first sentence.
A minister accused the Metropolitan Police of “grossly overreacting” to handing out penalties to those who attended a Downing Street gathering to wish Johnson a happy birthday during the first lockdown.
They said: “Inter-municipal elections, with a turnout of 25-30%, are usually 0% useful in predicting the outcome of the next general election – but are no doubt used as a bedwetting tool by the usual suspects.”
Another supporting MP said the first fine was because of a relatively small gathering. They said it “will help dilute the grief as more serious violations are uncovered” – meaning “people will just shrug”.
A Downing Street insider also expressed confidence that Johnson had “crossed the Rubicon” and said if he survived a one-off fine he would likely stick with it even if police found there were further breaches of the Covid law were committed.
Sunak, who also received a fine and came under fire for his previously undisclosed possession of a US green card, was seen by Johnson’s supporters as helping to neutralize one of his most dangerous rivals.
The war in Ukraine may continue to dominate after the May 5 local elections.
Scotland Yard officials are still considering evidence of other alleged lawbreakers.
Government sources told the Guardian last week that Johnson has attended three other events he may attend: the Bring your own boze summer party in May 2020; a meeting in November at Johnson’s home with his wife on the day Dominic Cummings left; and a farewell party for senior aide Lee Cain at No. 10 the next day.