A day after surviving a vote of no confidence that could have cost him his job, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Tuesday that he would launch a package of economic measures in the coming weeks in a bid to strengthen his leadership at the head of the country and regain the support of the Conservative Party.
On Monday night, 148 of Britain’s 359 Conservative MPs voted to remove the prime minister from office, but the number fell short of the 180 (at least half of the bench) needed to remove him from power. Since the end of last year, Boris has been the target of frying after allegations that he participated in a series of parties that violated rules established by his own government to contain the spread of Covid-19. The scandal became known as “partygate”.
At issue is Boris’ integrity. His opponents accuse him of being an outspoken liar, and he faces an investigation into whether he misled Parliament by explaining about parties held in Downing Street, the official residence and seat of government, while the British followed strict lockdown rules during the pandemic.
Now, with breathing space after beating his party’s rebel bench, his first challenge is to convince his most important allies, some of whom would likely run to replace him if he lost his mandate, that he will be able to overcome mistrust.
This Tuesday, in a meeting with his cabinet, Boris thanked the ministers for their support and said that in the coming weeks he should launch new housing policies and proposals to reduce the cost of child care.
The prime minister plans to give a speech to voters this week focused on housing, as well as another speech focused on the economy next week. The government also intends to go ahead with the controversial project of sending immigrants who entered the country illegally to Rwanda. The idea is for the first group to go to the African country on June 14th.
According to the British newspaper Daily Telegraph, Boris is still considering reforming his cabinet and rewarding fellow members who showed loyalty in the vote. The idea is mainly to promote a younger generation of parliamentarians, especially those elected in 2019, to win the support of that part of the bench that would have more resistance to the premier, in addition to punishing high-ranking officials who did not publicly defend him. To the newspaper, however, the government denied that it intends to make changes at the moment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky commented on Boris’ victory in Parliament. “I’m very happy about it,” he said at an event hosted by the Financial Times. “I’m glad we haven’t lost a very important ally, this is great news.” Boris gained popularity in Ukraine after moving quickly to supply the country with weapons in January, even before the Russian invasion.
For William Hague, who led the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001, Boris’ position as prime minister is no longer viable and he should “turn his mind to leave” to give the party a chance to start over. Remaining in charge of the country, for him, would be like “driving on the road with two flat tires”, he told Reuters.
On Tuesday, British newspapers offered little comfort to the idea propagated by the prime minister after the vote that the result would be final. The Daily Telegraph, where Boris himself made a career as a journalist, called the result an “empty victory”. In the Times, the assessment was that the small difference in votes is not good for the prime minister’s political authority.
Political scientist Anand Menon, from King’s College London, told AFP that the vote was a “massive blow” for the prime minister. “I doubt he will resign, so the question is whether obviously disaffected MPs will find a way to overthrow him,” he said.
Conservative Party rules stipulate that the prime minister is safe from another vote of no confidence for the next 12 months, but this can technically be changed if there is sufficient political will to do so.
As long as he remains in office, “the prime minister’s vulnerability will be the main factor influencing the government’s actions: it will be difficult to interpret every political announcement, every initiative, as anything more than tactics to compensate for his weakness,” says Menon. .
In 2018, Boris’s predecessor, Theresa May, won a no-confidence motion against her with a larger percentage than the current prime minister, and yet she resigned six months later amid the difficulties of getting Brexit done.
This Tuesday, Transparency International in the United Kingdom called on the British government to tighten codes of conduct for politicians in order to try to regain public trust.
“Recent developments have demonstrated how long-standing conventions around ethical standards in public life are no longer taken for granted, and there is little scope for monitoring misconduct by those in power,” said Daniel Bruce, an executive at entity. “This deviation from standards and the decisions that flow from it run the risk of fueling inequality, slowing our economy and undermining effective crisis responses here at home.”
The group called for the Ministerial Code, which sets standards of conduct for high-ranking politicians, to be regulated to prevent it from being overturned by the prime minister at the time, among other changes. The move comes after the government last month announced changes to its ethics rules so that ministers who violate the code are no longer required to resign.
On Monday, Conservative lawmaker John Penrose resigned as the government’s anti-corruption representative, saying it was clear that Boris had broken the code of conduct by lying to parliament by denying he attended parties during the Covid-19 ban.