Boris Johnson was never going to announce his resignation in the Commons today as he walked into the chamber to the sound of hearty cheers from the Tory backbenches. His strategy thus far has been consistent: deny any breach of lockdown rules for as long as possible and, once caught, bow a ruffled head and issue a laconic apology in the hope it will all blow over. He was true to form today as he repeated his “wholehearted apology to the house” in “all humility”, bookending his statement with a vivid account of his “impromptu” walk around Kyiv to the sound of proud murmurs from behind.
Johnson is not the component in this equation that is going to change. That role falls to events (more fines, the publication of Sue Gray’s full report on Downing Street parties, poor local election results) or a change of heart from the arbiters of the Prime Minister’s fate: Tory MPs.
The Former chief whip, Mark Harper, was the only Tory MP to call for Johnson’s resignation today, indicting the Prime Minister as not “worthy of the office he holds”. Harper’s demand is not a surprise: the seasoned rebel has long expressed his unease at partygate. But it is important as a potential catalyst for other MPs to break rank. One reason Johnson didn’t fall in February was that the rebellion was organic, leaderless. Harper’s announcement is a development around which others could rally.
But it’s not clear that they want to. Most Tory MPs who spoke today accepted Johnson’s apology. After waxing earnestly about the relationship between justice, mercy and forgiveness, the senior backbencher Steve Baker asked Johnson “what assurance can he give us that nothing of this kind will ever happen again”. What this tells us is that Tory MPs are still willing to accept Johnson’s apology and his assurances about his future conduct. There’s a problem with this position, however: partygate is not yet over and other scandals are bound to follow.