The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has resigned as Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip with immediate effect as Tory infighting spills over into the public domain.
Staunch Johnson allies Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams have also stepped down from representing their constituents, triggering three byelections which will undoubtedly cause Rishi Sunak an additional political headache. As Ben Walker noted for the New Statesman, Labour is likely to gain Uxbridge and South Ruislip and, if Starmer’s party can take Selby and Ainsty, it will be indicative of Labour’s strong possibility of achieving a landslide majority at the next general election.
Many commentators have understood Boris Johnson’s resignation as a proactive decision to ‘jump before being pushed.’ The Privileges Committee will publish their report later this week into whether the former Prime Minister misled Parliament with regards to the Partygate scandal. Johnson was handed the final report several days ago. It is believed that the Privileges Committee has concluded that Johnson did mislead the House and recommended a suspension from the Commons for at least ten days. This would therefore trigger a byelection – one which the pollsters believe Johnson has a slim chance of winning.
Critiques of Johnson have been scathing, with many coming from distinguished commentators. Andrew Rawnsley has described the former Prime Minister as a ‘coward’ by ‘scuttling away from the scene of one of his most flagrant and egregious crimes against public life rather than face the music for trying to cover up a scandal by lying about it to parliament and to avoid the entirely appropriate sanction recommended by seven MPs on the Privileges Committee.’ Andrew Marr understands Johnson to be behaving ‘like a violent drunk finally expelled from his favourite pub – fists flailing, turning the air blue with furious invective, and pretending he is choosing to leave of his own accord.’
Indeed, by analysing Johnson’s one-thousand-word resignation letter, it seems the former Prime Minister is attempting to deploy Trumpian tactics to save the future of his political career. The New Statesman recognised that his resignation illustrates the way in which politicians attempt to try and control the political narrative. Johnson declared that he was ‘very sad to be leaving Parliament – at least for now’, keeping the hopes of his allies and supporters for a return alive. He dubbed the Privileges Committee a ‘Kangaroo Court’, lamenting the fact that he was ‘now being forced out of Parliament by a tiny handful of people, with no evidence to back up their assertions.’ Despite Johnson previously asserting that leaving the European Union would restore Parliamentary Sovereignty, his behaviour and claims continue to attack the institutions and mechanisms of the UK Parliament.
Johnson also believes that he is being defenestrated from Parliament by an anti-Brexit establishment cabal that is seeking to ruin his credibility. However, the Privileges Committee investigation was established with a mandate from the entire House of Commons. Furthermore, as Rawnsley points out, the two most senior Conservative members that sit on the Committee – Sir Bernard Jenkin and Sir Charles Walker – are Brexiters.
Some within the media have entertained the notion that Boris Johnson, his allies, and Nigel Farage, could team up and establish a new political party to attract and entice centre-right voters that no longer recognise the Conservative Party. Farage recently stated that the ‘gap for another insurgency is actually bigger than it was ten years ago,’ and that a potential new party could achieve seats in the Commons well into double figures. It is well-known that both Farage and Johnson adore the limelight.
The current political fallout has also been triggered by Boris Johnson’s honours list. The Prime Minister’s Resignation Honours is a political tradition in the UK in which outgoing prime ministers recommend individuals to receive peerages, knighthoods and lesser honours. The House of Lords Appointments Commission and the Cabinet Office’s Honours Committee approve and oversee the suitability of potential peerages. However, Rishi Sunak has publicly declared that Boris Johnson ‘asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do, because I didn’t think it was right.’ This involved Johnson asking Sunak to override the vetting process, with Johnson nominating several close allies. The House of Lords rejected eight of the former Prime Minister’s nominations.
Many within the Conservative Party are desperately trying to disassociate themselves and the party brand from Boris Johnson. In recent days, swathes of MPs have discredited the former Prime Minister. Tim Loughton MP hoped that Johnson would ‘shut up and go away.’ Tobias Ellwood MP believed Johnson had ‘departed in his own style, kicking and screaming with so much drama, inflicting damage as he goes,’ comparing his actions to ‘a mutiny.’ Current Cabinet members Michael Gove and Grant Shapps believe separating Johnson from the Conservative Party is essential if the Tories want to avoid a rout at the next general election, stating that life and the world had ‘moved on.’
They are not wrong. This current political environment and situation for the Conservatives is unrecognisable in comparison to 2019. Less than four years ago, those in the Conservative Party were praising their shrewd judgement for placing their faith in Johnson as leader, ‘hailing him a demi-god’ for achieving the infamous 2019 General Election victory that secured an eighty-seat majority. This was an extraordinary achievement for a party that had already been in government for nine years. Johnson now leaves the Commons as the only Prime Minister to be convicted of breaking the law in office, as well as the first Prime Minister to be forced to resign from their constituency duties as a Member of Parliament ‘because of the magnitude of [their] disgrace.’
Despite Johnson teasing the prospect of a future return, Henry Hill from ConservativeHome believes that ‘it is hard to imagine the Conservative hierarchy being fool enough to allow him to stand again.’ Large sections of the British media described Johnson as a shape-shifter who could batter away criticism, an unrivalled election winner possessing a unique phoenix-like ability to rise again from the depths of political wilderness. Some continue this narrative, warning doubters to ‘never write off Boris Johnson.’ Ex-Tory MP Rory Stewart has recently suggested on The Rest is Politics podcast that Johnson, after realising his ineptitude at governing, will attempt to rejoin the Conservative Party in opposition. Stewart believes Johnson has ‘a huge fantasy about being Leader of the Opposition’ as he ‘loves generating headlines’ and ‘mocking Keir Starmer from the other side of the benches.’
Divided parties do not usually tend to perform well at general elections. With Johnson bowing out of the Commons in disgrace, Sunak may feel he has some element of control over his party. He may even believe this is an opportunity to define himself before the next election. However, something that many Tory MPs can agree on is that ‘the pantomime has to end.’ The final curtain may have just fallen on the political career of Boris Johnson.
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