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10 December 2021

Could these be the last days of Boris Johnson?

The Prime Minister’s account of events has been thrown into doubt by the Electoral Commission’s investigation into his flat’s refurbishment funding.

By Stephen Bush

Is a change of nuisance as good as a holiday? Boris Johnson will hope so. Christopher Geidt, the Prime Minister’s adviser on standards, is contemplating either reopening his investigation into the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat or resigning, as per both the FT and the Telegraph.

Geidt’s investigation cleared Johnson of breaching the ministerial code. But the Prime Minister’s account of events has been thrown into doubt by the Electoral Commission’s own investigation into the flat’s funding.

Elsewhere, further details about the Downing Street gathering on 18 December have come to light, with ITV’s Paul Brand revealing that Jack Doyle, the Prime Minister’s communications chief, attended and handed out certificates as part of a joke awards ceremony. “Sources familiar with the situation” tell ITV that senior figures thanked staff at the end of every week, and this was a routine speech. (And if you believe that, etc etc.)

Could these be the last days of Boris Johnson? The reality is that our political system lacks few built-in safeguards: even if Johnson is found to have lied to Geidt or the House of Commons, despite being traditional resigning matters, there is no automatic ejector seat if the Prime Minister decides not to go. It’s the role of Conservative MPs to force Johnson’s exit. Are they minded to do so?  

It’s finely balanced. It’s true to say that relations between Downing Street and the parliamentary party are bad and getting worse. But it helps Johnson that there is not yet a clear and overwhelming frontrunner to replace him. That said, it doesn’t help the PM that neither of the candidates most likely to succeed him (Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, in that order of likelihood if you ask me) have a group of MPs so viscerally opposed to them that they will cling to Boris Johnson in order to keep them out.

In that respect, it’s a lot like the Profumo scandal: it became dangerous to Harold Macmillan because the Conservative Party was getting tired of his leadership, his heresies, and feared he was losing his electoral mojo – and the scandal provided a pretext to act.

Polls of voting intention at this point in the parliament are not worth worrying about in my view, but it doesn’t help the Prime Minister that both YouGov and Survation show Labour leads this morning. The one thing that Johnson has going for him is that Conservatives don’t yet believe that he has lost his electoral mojo. If that changes, then Christopher Geidt and Jack Doyle might just, between them, have given Tory MPs the pretext they want to make a change at the top.

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[See also: David Gauke: Boris Johnson has lost the credibility to lead Britain through another Covid wave]

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