LONDON – Partygate is back, but the mood music in Westminster has changed – for now.
A new episode aired Tuesday for watchers after the final season of What’s Happening in Britain, as the Metropolitan Police announced they would issue 20 fines over social gatherings at the heart of government flouting COVID rules .
It is the first major development since police announced they were investigating a number of parties being held in Downing Street and Whitehall during various phases of the pandemic lockdown.
While politics remains volatile, the so-called “Partygate” scandal, which many Westminster watchers predicted would oust the British prime minister, has erupted in just over a month since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade ordered to Ukraine, swept aside.
Several Tory MPs, critical of having the power to oust Johnson as party leader and thus prime minister, have recalculated in the face of Russian aggression and concluded now is not the time for a leadership change.
However, the decision to impose fines shines a spotlight on a scandal the No10 has been keen to forget and raises new questions about Johnson’s future.
Information on the penalties is limited so far, with police saying they will not identify the individuals fined or what events the fines relate to. Depending on the level of security, officers may not even have to explain that they have been fined, and the government is not expected to comment on disciplinary action.
Downing Street confirmed there would be no details on those involved other than the Prime Minister and the head of the UK Civil Service, Simon Case.
Most Conservative MPs agree they are on a hold until there is word on whether Johnson himself will be fined, which could take months. However, some predict the Prime Minister will sit out the scandal as the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated dramatically.
A Tory MP critical of Johnson said there was “a feeling that we are moving through a seismic historic event and the Prime Minister is showing the right kind of leadership at a time like this. I’m afraid rule-breaking drink parties have become less important.”
He added that that was also the sentiment among party members and local officials – significant because MPs would generally consult them before calling for Johnson to be replaced.
Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative who had revoked a no-confidence letter against Johnson, said so Daily Telegraph: “If there were a vote of confidence in the prime minister tomorrow, I would have to vote for him because otherwise we would be playing into the hands of Mr. Putin.”
A third MP, a member of a rebel faction elected in 2019, echoed this, saying it was hard to see how the prime minister could now be “ousted”.
Others suggested that relations between No 10 and his party had improved following a backroom reshuffle last month.
The war in Europe may have strengthened the prime minister’s position, but things could change quickly. A senior Conservative warned that no one should assume a leadership challenge is out of the question.
James Johnson, founder of polling firm JL Partners, said the idea of a “Ukraine bounce” for the prime minister was not reflected in public sentiment.
“Focus groups have been saying the same thing over and over since January – the Prime Minister’s brand has been tarnished significantly and partygate’s impact on his brand is still playing a major role,” he said. “Every time I ask about the government and the prime minister, it was mentioned prominently – even more so than Ukraine.”
The confirmation that officials at Downing Street and Whitehall broke the law also raises the possibility that the Prime Minister misled the House of Commons when he previously claimed no rules had been broken. Misleading the house was traditionally seen as a matter of resignation.
Former Cabinet Secretary Andrew Mitchell said at a recent anti-corruption meeting: “If you can get away with not telling the truth at the mail box, I think that undermines all our civil liberties, all our human rights and Parliament needs to take a much tougher line Select.”
Johnson’s spokesman on Tuesday claimed he does not accept that he misled the House.
While he has to endure another uncomfortable series of questions from the Prime Minister on Wednesday, Parliament will adjourn for a two-week Easter break soon after. This will serve to defuse tensions in Westminster at a time convenient for Johnson, with no indication of when the ongoing police investigation could be completed or further fines could be imposed.
Once again, it looks like Johnson’s survival strategy will depend on staying tough and asserting himself.
https://www.politico.eu/article/has-putin-saved-boris-johnson/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Did Putin Save Boris Johnson? - POLITICS