5 ways in which Boris Johnson’s Partygate scandal could unfold – POLITICO

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LONDON – Boris Johnson faces the biggest scandal in his prime after admitting to attending a 2020 drinks party at 10 Downing Street while the rest of the country was under a strict lockdown.

MPs, including some in Johnson’s own party, have publicly called for his resignation – and usually supportive newspapers have turned against him. While cabinet ministers have tried to defend their boss, a few big names have been less than convincing.

So what can happen next? POLITICO takes you through the possible results.

1. Johnson withdraws abruptly

This is probably the least likely scenario. Johnson has dealt with many scandals and is, as one ally said The times, “a fighter.”

Andrew Gimson, Johnson’s cinematographer, called the crisis-stricken prime minister “a resourceful person” who “will try to bring the conversation forward.” And Johnson’s loyal ministers have made a point of reminding MPs of the 80-man majority the Prime Minister provided for the party in the 2019 parliamentary elections, after the party stared into the abyss under Theresa May.

It would be remarkable if Johnson chose to give up the floor with it under his belt.

However, if Johnson chose to fire up the ejector seat, it would not be an immediate exit. He would have to set a time frame for resigning, after which a conservative leadership contest would take place. It can last for up to six weeks.

Conservative officials suggested the party would aim to complete this process before the summer break in parliament in late July to allow a successor to establish himself before things start up again.

2. Further damaging revelations are forcing the Prime Minister out

The next point in extreme danger for Johnson is the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of shutdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and across the Whitehall by Sue Gray, a senior official who could report early next week.

Cath Haddon of the Institute for Government think tank said Gray’s report is expected to focus on “establishing facts” rather than apportioning blame.

Yet much rests on the details of Gray’s results and the robustness of her language. Depending on how hard Gray goes, the report may be accompanied by immediate resignations from individuals involved in the alleged violation – or it may make Johnson’s own position untenable.

In this scenario, you could expect to see more MPs publicly calling for Johnson’s main and potential resignation.

Conservative MPs can trigger a no-confidence motion for their leader, or Johnson himself may conclude that he can no longer get his party’s support.

It is worth noting that in order to trigger a vote of confidence in Johnson’s leadership, 15 percent of Conservative MPs will have to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady. He is famously taciturn about the letters he has received, so take any guess with a grain of salt.

3. The police intervene

Metropolitan Police have so far not opened any official investigation into the many alleged incidents of rule violations – despite widespread public outrage.

However, The Met confirmed that they are in contact with the cabinet office after an email invitation to the infamous garden drinks found its way to ITV News. If Met chose to launch a formal investigation – as proponents currently threatening lawsuit claims it should – the pressure on Johnson to resign would become acute.

Fun facts: There is no requirement in the UK for a minister or a Member of Parliament to resign if convicted of a crime – unless they are sentenced to more than a year in prison. A shorter sentence would trigger a revocation request, allowing voters to take matters into their own hands, but that is it.

4. Johnson holds on – again

If Gray’s report does not have a direct impact on the Prime Minister, who is sending MPs into immediate letter-writing rage, his calculation will probably be that he can sharpen it out again. She may well conclude that a culture of rule-breaking was prevalent in No. 10 and Whitehall during the pandemic, but without finding out that Johnson was responsible.

Should he survive the immediate aftermath of the investigation, it is hard to say how much longer he could ultimately spend on office. If the local elections in May go badly for the Conservatives, it could give rise to another glimmer of anger and a moment of reckoning before the long summer break. If not, Johnson will get another pass and may focus on an attempt to rebuild his position before the next parliamentary election.

However, this does not necessarily mean that everyone will be ugly. An adviser to former Prime Minister Theresa May – no stranger to massive conservative divisions – said the party “has now broken up into two camps” – those for and against Johnson. That, the former adviser warned, means that “even if he continues, the level of insurgency will be sky-high.”

5. Johnsons rivals take a step

Through all this, Tory MPs who feel like their chances as the next Prime Minister will make calculations on how best to position themselves.

It did not go unnoticed that two of the ministers who hotly tipped to succeed Johnson – Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Minister Liz Truss – were silent for several hours after his apology in parliament. Although both eventually tweeted their support, it was Sunaks decidedly subdued. The CFO, who happened to be 364 kilometers away from Westminster while the Prime Minister made a gross apology to the House of Commons, highlighted the importance of Grays’ inquiry in his statement.

All eyes will be fixed on Sunak when the report lands, and his full support – or otherwise – will tell us how much danger Johnson is in. Another challenger to see is Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the health committee and Johnson’s former challenger for management. His silence on the whole row has not gone unnoticed in Westminster.


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