The Conservative Party explores how to speed up Boris Johnson’s departure from Downing Street | International
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American pool players know that the moment that marks the game is the first shot. The one that scatters the triangle of balls around the table. Boris Johnson, who has the ability to quote a paragraph from memory The Iliadrescue a popular voice unknown to the rest of the interlocutors or invent their own words, dropped the expression in his resignation speech Them’s the breaks (This is how it is broken). It is a way of acknowledging an unwanted situation, in his case the forced resignation of leading the Conservative Party. And it is also what is said in billiards jargon when the game begins. Johnson has already caused a multitude of candidates to succeed him to start hitting each other like crazy balls, while he continues in Downing Street, as prime minister, and with the cue in his hand. The Conservative Party is exploring various formulas so that his permanence at the head of the Government is as short as possible.
At the last hour of the saddest day of his political career, he summoned his new government – he had hastily replaced all the resigned ministers – to convey an alleged image of institutional stability. He already warned them that he was not thinking of “promoting new policies or imposing changes of course.” His long-awaited tax cut would have to wait.
Many relevant members of the Conservative Party are uneasy at the idea of Johnson remaining for what could be a very long time at the helm of the ship. In his first conversation with Graham Brady, the president of the 1922 Committee (the body that brings together deputies Tories without a position in the Government, in charge of organizing the primary process and electing a new leader), announced his intention to remain acting Prime Minister until the fall – October, predictably – when the annual congress of the Conservative Party would be held. That would be the moment to elect the new person at the head of the formation, and to proceed with the relief of the prime minister.
“The proposal that the Prime Minister remain in office for up to three months, after having lost the support of his Cabinet, senior government officials and the parliamentary group, is insane, and probably untenable,” he noted. former Prime Minister John Major. Soon other notable conservatives joined the chorus, such as the deputy Simon Hoare or the former minister ―and former candidate to lead the party― Andrea Leadsom. Even Robert Buckland, who has returned to the Government to occupy the Ministry of Welsh Affairs, made it clear on Thursday that “this Prime Minister no longer has the political authority to promote anything new.”
“Unfortunately, it is difficult to think that Johnson, given his personality, is capable of governing for three months with a humble and repentant attitude. That was not the tone of his resignation speech,” former Secretary of State for Science George Freeman summed up the fears of many conservatives on Thursday morning.
The postponed wedding party
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Amid the brainy political analysis of the day of the resignation, the tabloid DailyMirror dropped another belated bomb: the Johnsons had planned a big party for July 30 at Checkers, the official country residence of the British Prime Minister. The idea was to celebrate the first wedding anniversary with family and friends. Boris Johnson and Carrie Symons were married last year in a private ceremony at Westminster Abbey, with all the capacity restrictions imposed by the pandemic at the time. Sources cited by the newspaper claimed that the party was a compelling reason for Johnson to try to hold out in Downing Street as long as possible.
Initially, the Prime Minister’s spokesmen wanted to ridicule the information and insisted that the permanence at the head of the Government responded to Johnson’s “sense of duty”, but they did not deny that the party was planned. And Conservative MPs are already scalded enough by Johnson’s earlier lies to give him one last benefit of the doubt. Finally, Downing Street has come out this Friday to clarify that the Checkers country residence will not host the anniversary.
The executive of the 1922 Committee will meet this same Monday. On the agenda, as the first point, you must call for the vote of a new executive, but it is a quick process. From there, the crucial question will be how to advance the process of primaries and election of a new leader of the Conservative Party. In 2019, the race took two months, in which the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, continued to lead the Government.
The election is made in two phases. In a first, the deputies participate in successive discard votes, until only two candidates remain. The current rules impose that, in the first call, the applicants who do not obtain at least 17 supports are eliminated. In the second, those who do not reach 33. And in the successive ones, the least voted is left out until there are only two. It is very likely that, with at least fifteen applicants to succeed Johnson, and all of them of notable popularity, the decision will be made to speed up deadlines and tighten rules so that the process can be carried out quickly.
Parliament’s session ends on July 21. By then, many Conservatives hope, it should at least be clear who the two rivals are who would go on to a second phase. From then on, more leisurely deadlines are required, so that the affiliates organize meetings with the applicants and can listen to them in person. In the best case, there would be no new leader or new prime minister until the end of August or the beginning of September.
And meanwhile, Johnson would continue to command, unless someone convinced him to see reason. There is no constitutional mechanism to replace him by force, nor a defined figure – such as a vice-presidency of the Government in Spain – to assume his position. The nuclear button of presenting a confidence motion in Parliament, especially if it were the Labor opposition that did it, would lead to a civil war between the conservatives, and early elections – if successful – that they do not want.
Everything is a diffuse and controversial terrain. The current Minister of Justice, Dominic Raab, today holds the position of deputy prime minister. But he is more honorific than hierarchical. Taking into account that he has announced that he does not intend to compete for the leadership of the party, as he did in 2019, he could be the perfect person to maintain bland stability for as long as necessary and without surprises in the government. But for that it would be necessary for Johnson to finally understand that the game is definitely over.
Police will not fine Labor leader for skipping confinement
Durham Police have finally closed the investigation into the leader of the Labor Party after two months of investigations. Keir Starmer will not be fined for breaking the lockdown rules. The decision represents a notable political boost for the leader of the opposition, as opposed to the final fate of Boris Johnson, forced by his followers to resign due to his lack of credibility and honesty.
In the midst of the scandal of parties in Downing Street during the confinement, various media published a photo in which, behind the window, Starmer was seen having a beer with what seemed like a group of people. It was April 30 last year, and gatherings inside residents of different households were still prohibited. A few days later there were to be by-elections in the area, and Starmer was campaigning with his team. The meeting, he then explained, was a work break in which he and others (17, according to police) ordered Indian food and a few beers. It apparently fell within the exceptions contemplated in the rules of social distancing then in force. Johnson’s team, however, desperate to put the two leaders on the same footing to shift blame, made a lot of noise with “the beer photo.”
Starmer then made a risky decision, which led many of his rivals within the party to rub their hands. He promised to resign if the police fined him, as he had done to Johnson for his involvement in the Downing Street parties. “The police have concluded their investigations and agree: there is no case to answer for,” Starmer wrote on his Twitter account. “For me, all this was always a matter of principle. Honesty and integrity matter. And they can always count on me for it.” The Labor leader has once again called on Johnson to leave Downing Street as soon as possible.
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