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12 June 2023

The Johnson Restoration now seems an impossible dream

Could Rishi Sunak prevent the former PM from standing in a different seat before the election?

By Freddie Hayward

How many times can political careers die?

Nicola Sturgeon was arrested yesterday (11 June), questioned for seven hours and then released without charge in relation to a police investigation surrounding the SNP’s finances (the former first minister denies any wrongdoing). I’ll make a strident prediction: whatever happens, this won’t help the party revive its flagging position in the polls (cue smiles in Labour HQ). Nor will it boost Sturgeon’s chances of swanning around the UN’s Geneva headquarters anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the Privileges Committee will today finalise its report into whether Boris Johnson deliberately misled parliament. The committee was reportedly going to suspend him for 20 days, exposing him to a recall petition and a possible by-election. He pre-empted this by resigning on Friday (9 June) with a thousand-word letter full of attempts to presage his return and blame his defenestration on a conspiracy to stop Brexit. (“An oven-ready temper tantrum,” as one Tory MP described it to me.)

David Gauke points out that Johnson could have chosen to face MPs and then the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in a by-election – the route of a true martyr. But he clearly didn’t think he would win (neither does the New Statesman’s election modelling). That lack of support bodes ill for his chances of bouncing back if Rishi Sunak loses the next general election. For that even to be a possibility, he’d have to secure another seat before the election, which – if Sunak channels Starmer’s approach to former leaders – the Prime Minister could probably block.

Since he flew back from the Caribbean island of Mustique for the leadership contest in October, the Privileges Committee investigation has been an obstacle to Johnson’s return. Any residual momentum in Johnson’s cause was lost in March when he pleaded idiocy in front of the committee. Now, the investigation has not only prevented him staging a coup, it’s cost him his seat.

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

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