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What now for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives?

Rishi Sunak must now contend with two by-elections and a renewed Tory civil war.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Boris Johnson has dramatically quit as an MP after being handed the findings of a report into whether he knowingly misled MPs over the partygate scandal.

The former prime minister, who resigned last year in disgrace, appeared to be outraged at the verdict from the Commons Privileges Committee, chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman, claiming it was a “kangaroo court” riddled with “egregious bias” towards him.

The committee of MPs, which has a Tory majority, is believed to have recommended a suspension of more than 10 days, which could have led to a recall petition and a byelection in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency (where he holds a majority of 7,210).

Modelling by Britain Predicts suggests that the Conservatives trail Labour by a double-digit margin in the seat, suggesting that Johnson would have struggled to win. But the former PM did not leave it there, noting in his statement that he was “sad” to be leaving parliament “for now”.

Earlier today, Johnson’s resignation honours list, which rewards former advisers, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen and former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey with peerages, was published by Downing Street. Several names slated to appear, such as Johnson’s father Stanley and his close ally Nadine Dorries, did not feature.  

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[See also: The Johnson Restoration now seems an impossible dream]

Dorries, a former cabinet minister, took the opportunity to announce her own resignation, triggering a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire, where the Tories hold a large but not impregnable majority of 24,664. Johnson’s departure has now prompted some MPs to speculate that Dorries is standing down to make way for her former boss and friend. 

So, where does this leave the Conservative Party? Rishi Sunak, who has attempted to refresh the Tories after 13 years in office, must now contend with two by-elections and a renewed internal war. Johnson, meanwhile, appears determined to intensify his rhetoric and rally his base. He accused the committee of a witch hunt and claimed MPs “have still not produced a shred of evidence that I knowingly or recklessly misled the Commons”.

In recent months, allies such as Priti Patel and Tory donor Peter Cruddas have launched the Conservative Democratic Organisation, a Bennite-like group which claims the parliamentary party has failed to represent the view of members, a significant number of who still revere Johnson and believe he was betrayed by Sunak.

Ultimately, however, any comeback by Johnson would rely on enough support from the wider public and the numbers here are less favourable for him. A YouGov poll conducted before the committee’s findings found that 68 per cent wanted Johnson to resign if he was found to have misled MPs and that 85 per cent believed he was a liar. 

Johnson’s behaviour may finally have caught up with him but all the signs suggest a man still unwilling to abandon his overweening ambition.

[See also: Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson’s other enablers should never be forgiven]

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