Boris buys himself a reprieve

11 February 2022

8:35 PM

11 February 2022

8:35 PM

After a difficult few weeks, Boris Johnson has made it to parliamentary recess. Given few expect a no confidence vote to be held during recess, time away from parliament gives the Prime Minister much-needed breathing space. After the seemingly never-ending parade of partygate stories, there have been times when MPs were sceptical he would make it this far.

Instead, the Prime Minister has succeeded in buying himself time — talking down would-be plotters and rushing out a string of red meat announcements to keep the right of his party on side. The announcement this week that all Covid restrictions could end a month early is a prime example of this. When MPs return from recess, Johnson will unveil his plan for living with the virus — which will include the guidance rather than law (self-isolation is expected to become just advice) and reduced access to tests.

However, Johnson will also have to contend with the police investigation into partygate. With 50 members of Downing Street — including Johnson and his wife Carrie — expected to be questioned by police in the coming weeks, fixed penalty notices could soon be issued. While names are not expected to be published of those who receive them, the Prime Minister has committed to saying if he gets one.

If that did happen, it would likely trigger another round of letters from both the left and the right of the party. This is the point at which rebels believe there is a chance Johnson could lose the vote. ‘At that point if letters go in, the vote could be very narrow indeed,’ says one disheartened Tory who is yet to submit their own letter. Johnson is expected to consult with a private lawyer if he receives a questionnaire from the police over alleged breaches of lockdown rules.

By talking up the chances of the Prime Minister receiving a fixed penalty notice, Johnson’s critics may find it hard to regain momentum if no fine is issued. However, that isn’t to say all is well.

Despite Johnson’s reset this week — with changes to his No. 10 team and a mini reshuffle — MPs are sceptical that much has really changed. Many saw the mini reshuffle as rewarding loyalty rather than bringing in change. Even without a police fine, Johnson will need to use the next few months to deliver serious policy changes if he is going to keep his restive MPs at bay.

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