LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a landslide vote of censure on Monday, defending a riot that leaves him faltering and foreshadows a volatile period in British politics as he struggles to stay in power and lead a Conservative party. divided.
The vote, 211 to 148, did not reach the majority of Conservative legislators needed to oust Mr. Johnson. But he has highlighted the extent to which his support has been eroded since last year, when a scandal erupted over revelations that he and his top aides held parties at No. 10 Downing Street that violated government blocking rules. More than 40 percent of Conservative lawmakers voted against him in an unexpectedly large rebellion.
Mr. Johnson vowed to stay, stating that victory should end months of speculation about his future. “It’s a convincing result, a decisive result,” the prime minister said from Downing Street after the results of the secret ballot were announced.
“As a government,” he added. Johnson, “We can focus and move on to the things that really matter to people.”
History shows, however, that Conservative prime ministers who have been subjected to such a vote, even if they win it, are usually ousted from office, if not immediately, within a few months.
Johnson won less support from his party on Monday than his predecessor, Theresa May, in 2018, or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1990, when they survived the censure vote. Mrs. May was expelled six months later. Mrs. Thatcher only lasted a few days.
And yet, Mr. Johnson is a singular figure in British politics, cheerfully defying conventions and often seeming immune to the rules of political gravity. With a comfortable majority in Parliament, his party is in no danger of losing power. He could choose to weather the storm, claiming, as he did on Monday evening, that he got a longer term than when he was first elected party leader in July 2019.
However, for a politician who led the Conservatives to a victory in the 2019 elections with the promise of “achieving Brexit”, it was a blatant fall in disgrace, which could expose him to a political uprising in his party, an empowered opposition. , and more electoral setbacks that weaken its credibility.
In two and a half years, Mr. Johnson has gone from being the most trusted voter in the UK, a famous politician who redrawed the country’s political map, to a scandal-stricken figure whose job has been in jeopardy since the first party reports illicit confinement. emerged last November.
When the British paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth’s 70th reign last week, they turned against her prime minister’s chaotic tenure. On Friday, Mr. Johnson was booed by the crowd at St. Paul’s Cathedral when he and his wife, Carrie, attended a Thanksgiving service for the Queen.
That moment may have crystallized the loss of public support for Mr. Johnson, an ethically flexible journalist turned politician whose sins were forgiven most of the time by an audience he proved to be an expert in enchanting.
However, for now, Mr Johnson remains in power and, under current party rules, cannot face another vote of censure for a year. The odds of removing it will depend on various wildcards.
Will her cabinet turn against her, as Mrs Thatcher did after the 1990 vote, hastening her quick resignation? Will the party threaten to change the rules and hold a second censure vote, as it suggested it could do with Mrs May, persuade her to negotiate her exit? Mr. Johnson calling early general elections, seeking a public seat he could not get from his party?
Mr. Johnson tried to divert questions about new elections Monday night, saying only, “I’m certainly not interested in early elections.”
In 1995, Prime Minister John Major unleashed, and won, a leadership contest in the Conservative Party, only to fall into an overwhelming defeat to Tony Blair and the Labor Party two years later. Given the UK’s economic problems and the Conservative Party’s weakness in the polls, some Conservatives fear a similar result this time around.
Opposition leaders took advantage of the result to paint conservative lawmakers as endorsements for the leadership of an offending prime minister.
“Conservative MPs have made their election tonight,” Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said. “They have ignored the wishes of the British public.” Voters, he said, are “fed up – fed up – with a prime minister who promises a lot but never delivers.”
The result leaves conservatives restless and divided, after a tense day in which high-level party members fought openly on social media. Some lawmakers argued that his position had become untenable.
Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker, expressed surprise at the magnitude of the rebellion. “I think the Prime Minister should go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he is going,” Gale told the BBC.
But one of Mr. Johnson, James Cleverly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development, said: “He has won comfortably and now we must continue with the work.” He said about the electoral trajectory of Mr. Johnson: “No other candidate gets any of that level of support.”
Mr. Johnson was cordially received when he addressed the Conservatives in the early afternoon, with some lawmakers hitting their desks in supportive gestures, according to attendees. But he also received difficult questions, and as the members left the committee room afterwards, it became clear that he had not persuaded all those who opposed him to end his riot.
“I told the Prime Minister that if he broke the law he would have to go,” said Steve Baker, an influential pro-Brexit lawmaker who has called on Mr Johnson to step down. “Obviously he has broken the law, he clearly agrees with the violation of the law, so I keep my word that I gave the record that I should go.”
Pointing out that he had helped Mr. Johnson to become Prime Minister, Mr. Baker described it as a “horrible moment.”
Mr. Cleverly said the prime minister “was very serious” and that his speech was “light on jokes and heavy on plans and policies”.
“In fact, he has a plan for what he wants to do next, how we deliver on the promises we made in the 2019 general election,” he said, “how we continue to deliver on very, very difficult times.”
The last chapter of this drama began on Sunday when Mr. Johnson was informed by Graham Brady, the head of a Conservative Party committee of deputies, that the 54-letter threshold for a no-confidence vote had been reached. Mr. Brady and Mr. Johnson then negotiated the timing of the vote, with the prime minister pushing for it to be held quickly.
This gave Mr. Johnson a tactical advantage because he deprived potential rivals of time to organize a challenge. A potential rival, Jeremy Hunt, tried to move quickly and said Monday he would “vote for change.” Mr. Hunt, a former health secretary and secretary of state, lost to Mr. Johnson as party leader in 2019.
Nadine Dorries, the secretary of culture of Mr. Johnson and one of his most ardent advocates, bitterly criticized Mr. Hunt for “destabilizing the party and the country to serve your own ambition.” In a Twitter post, he said, “You’re wrong about almost everything, now you’re wrong again.”
The timing of the vote was also dictated by Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee, a four-day celebration that ended on Sunday. Mr. Brady was determined not to allow the news of a censure vote to overshadow the festivities. As a result, British political drama was played behind closed doors as the political establishment gathered to pay tribute to the Queen in a series of public acts.
After being informed of the vote, Mr. Johnson and his wife, Carrie, attended a pageant at Buckingham Palace, where his face showed no sign of a beer crisis. Several lawmakers who filed letters requesting a vote asked Mr. Brady who postdated them so that they would not be considered to interfere with the jubilee.
During a star-studded concert on Saturday evening, Mr. Johnson saw performers like Alicia Keys and Queen as Conservative lawmakers examined a note from anonymous members circulating on his WhatsApp group, warning him not to expel Mr. Johnson would bring the party to ruin, according to a report in The Telegraph.
The note’s strong assessment, published by The Telegraph, was that “Boris Johnson is no longer an electoral asset.”
Megan Specia provide reports.