Boris Johnson sat before parliament’s Liaison Committee earlier today clueless that his government was collapsing around him. Questions from this crack squad of senior MPs descended into farce as it became clear that the man sat in the chair would soon no longer be prime minister. While he was sat taking questions, his cabinet colleagues were plotting to defenestrate him when he returned to Downing Street.
Meanwhile, other members of Johnson’s government were resigning as he tried to answer questions on Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis. His authority slipped away minute by minute. MPs asked their questions with growing sarcasm and irreverence. Huw Merriman, the chair of the transport select committee, published a letter withdrawing his confidence in the Prime Minister as he waited to question the Prime Minister. There was five metres between them.
Johnson’s reputation – and his potential legacy – was demolished as he grew exasperated and bullish. He admitted he’d met the Russian businessman and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev without officials present. He undermined concerns about a culture of sexual misconduct in Westminster by appearing to blame alcohol: “it sort of feels to me that some people simply can’t take their drink”.
But the real story was the collapse of Johnson’s position and what he might do to remain in power. An exchange between Johnson and senior Tory William Wragg revealed that the Prime Minister seemed to be considering a general election to head off the rebellion and shore up his position. He was adamant that he had a mandate from the British people to govern. Bernard Jenkin and Wragg pressed the Prime Minister to confirm he wouldn’t seek an election if a majority of Tory MPs no longer supported him – which he eventually did. One senior Tory MP told me after the session that they’d been assured a request for a general election would not be granted.
Right now, a cabal of cabinet members are waiting in Downing Street to force Johnson’s resignation. The 1922 Committee, a source tells me, has decided that elections for its executive will take place on Monday. The new executive will be able to change the Tory party’s rules to allow a second vote of confidence that very same day. If the cabinet doesn’t force him out this week, his backbenchers will remove him next week. Boris Johnson’s appearance at the liaison committee may prove to be the humiliating finale of his time in office.
[See also: Boris Johnson to resign – what happens now? ]