It took only one intervention to understand that the situation Boris Johnson is facing is much more subterranean and pessimistic than appearances reflect. The control session that took place this Wednesday in the House of Commons was very delicate. Evidence is piling up against the prime minister, due to the scandal of banned parties in Downing Street during confinement, and popular outrage is pushing many Conservative MPs to contemplate a full-blown rebellion. Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer did not surprise with his strategy: he ridiculed Johnson’s excuses and called for his resignation again. Just like the Scottish Nationalists or the Liberal Democrats. And the interventions of the conservative caucus were carried out by docile deputies who tried to divert the debate with the approach of local issues. Until David Davis intervened, who was minister for Brexit in the conservative government of Theresa May, and one of the most relevant politicians of the group of eurosceptics. “I expect my leaders to take responsibility for their own actions. Yesterday, the prime minister did the opposite [Johnson aseguró que “nadie le dijo” que la reunión a la que acudió era una fiesta]”, Davis said with a serious face. “I’ll remind you of what Leo Amery said to Neville Chamberlain in 1940: ‘You’ve been sitting there too long for the few good things you’ve done…in God’s name, go away’, recited the deputy.
His intervention symbolized what had really happened in that control session. Most of the Conservative MPs unhappy with Johnson’s attitude had simply kept quiet, trying to decide whether their leader still has any chance of surviving. The Prime Minister was defiant in the House, wanting to put up a fight. And he drew some timid applause, but he is still immersed in a deadly trap.
The cue for future historians to pinpoint the exact moment when UK politicians stopped taking themselves seriously will be the names they chose for their conspiracies. Operation Save the Boss (Operation Save Big Dog), to the decision to shoot several heads in Downing Street to protect Johnson’s; Operation Carnaza (Operation Red Meat), to the set of populist measures to distract attention from the scandal of forbidden parties, and now, Operation Pork Pie (Operation Pork Pie), to the group of conservative deputies that has begun to organize to program the fall of the prime minister.
They all met late this Tuesday in the parliamentary office of Alicia Kearns, representative of the electoral constituency where the town of Melton Mowbray, famous for that English culinary specialty, is located. It happened on the eve of a new parliamentary control session, this Wednesday, which could be key to Johnson’s fate. The most important thing about that meeting turned out to be the who, the when and the why. There were about 20 deputies, but all of them come from territories that historically voted for the Labor Party. The call Red Wall (Red Wall), the regions of central and northern England that Johnson conquered in December 2019 for the Conservatives, on the back of his Brexit promise.
Many of those MPs never dreamed they would set foot in Westminster, and now they are willing to protect their seats tooth and nail. They decided to get together shortly after listening to the prime minister before the chambers of SkyNews. With a trembling voice and his head bowed, sheltered behind a mask that he has rarely used during the pandemic, Johnson once again apologized to the public and assured that “no one told him” that the party on May 20 in the Downing Street garden, at the who attended, was precisely that: a party, and not a “work event”. The deputies smelled terminal weakness in the appearance of their leader. The extreme sample of this general fright was carried out by Christian Wakeford. Parliamentary representative of the constituency of Bury South, who scratched the opposition in the last elections by just 400 votes (0.8%), announced this Wednesday that he was leaving the Conservative Party and joining the ranks of the Labor Party. “You are incapable of providing the leadership and government that this country needs,” Wakeford accused Johnson in his farewell announcement. The leader of the parliamentary left, Keir Starmer, placed Wakeford in the seat directly behind him and gave him a profuse welcome during his intervention in the control session. Paradoxically, this turnabout episode irritated some conservatives, and stimulated Johnson’s desire to fight.
The number of deputies weary of Johnson has grown in recent hours, but the question was how to organize his overthrow, and when the precise moment should be. ASAP? after the control session in the House of Commons? When Sue Gray, the high-ranking official who investigates banned parties, finally publishes her report? Popular anger at all that happened in Downing Street, in light of the massive mailing of protest letters from voters to their MPs, suggests that Johnson no longer has a reasonable political way out. Gray’s decision to question the prime minister’s former star adviser, Dominic Cummings, further complicates matters for the Conservative politician. Whoever was the ideologue of Brexit, who ended up leaving the Government through the back door, has started his particular vendetta against Johnson and assures that he has material to demonstrate that the prime minister has lied to Parliament about his knowledge of the parties during the pandemic.
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54 letters of “withdrawal of confidence” (15% of the parliamentary group) are necessary for the internal motion of censure against Johnson to be automatically activated. The number of them that has been able to reach the direction of the historic 1922 Committee, the body that brings together deputies, is not officially known. backbenchers (literally, those in the back seats), those who do not hold a position in the Government, and thus have greater room for maneuver to conspire. According to the data compiled by the British media, about ten more letters would have already come out of Operation Pork Pie. In any case, these types of riots work with an accelerating contagion effect, and in a matter of hours anything can happen.
In the case of Theresa May, the Eurosceptics who organized to bust her Brexit plan managed to reach the letter threshold on December 12, 2018. Hours later, late at night, the vote got under way. Few doubt that if history were to repeat itself, Johnson would suffer a serious setback. His popularity is now rock bottom, to the point that few of his fellow ranks want to catch it.
In the last hours, in any case, the knives have begun to shine in the Conservative Party, with accusations of disloyalty towards the “rookie” deputies. “All those who have organized this revolt are being very disloyal to the prime minister, the party, the voters and the entire nation,” he told The Times Nadine Dorries, the Minister of Culture that Johnson incorporated in his last Government remodeling. Dorries has shown in recent weeks that she is a staunch supporter of the prime minister, to the point of being expelled with intemperate boxes from a WhatsApp chat of Eurosceptic Conservatives. But it is not the only one that has charged against the rebels. “It’s disgusting. They were chosen thanks to him. Most of them were nobodys. It’s crazy,” said a government source – this time from the strictest anonymity – to that same newspaper.
Johnson began meeting small groups of MPs on Wednesday night to counter plots against him, but so far none of the MPs have come out publicly to say that the prime minister had convinced them with his explanations.
The Prime Minister announces the end of social restrictions
It is no coincidence that Johnson has chosen to immediately activate the measure with which he hopes to obtain more applause from the conservative caucus. The Prime Minister has announced the end of the social restrictions of the pandemic from Thursday next week. The use of a mask in shops or public transport will no longer be mandatory by law; the Government will stop recommending companies to facilitate teleworking where possible; and the presentation of a vaccination certificate will no longer be required in many public spaces. The public data on the pandemic, Johnson assured the deputies who were listening to his announcement, “have confirmed over and over again that this government has always been right when it comes to making the toughest decisions.” The imposition of new restrictions at the beginning of December, when the threat of the omicron variant generated serious doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines or the resistance capacity of the public health service, provoked one of the biggest rebellions in the conservative parliamentary group that had never suffered Johnson. The libertarian spirit of the conservative hard wing and the damage that the restrictions could cause to the local economy of their electoral constituencies, led a good number of conservative deputies to vote against them. The Johnson Government had to rely on the support of the Labor opposition to carry them forward. For this reason, in the face of what clearly seemed like a smoke screen from Downing Street this Wednesday, to lower the tone of the crisis around the parties prohibited during confinement, the Labor leader has offered nuanced support: “The Prime Minister You must be able to demonstrate, with scientific data, that you make this decision to protect public health, and not your own continuity in the position, ”said Starmer.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.