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Fines, fury and backbench panic: how political chaos followed Johnson to India | Boris Johnson

About an hour before Boris Johnson was due to fly back from Delhi to the UK on Friday night – after a two-day trade mission to India – some electrifying news appeared on Twitter. Anushka Asthana, deputy political editor of ITV, tweeted that “fines related to the garden event on May 20, 2020 – BYOB land in people’s boxes. [bring your own bottle] the event – which Boris Johnson came to “.

The trip to India was already overshadowed by Partygate. The Tories had a terrible week in parliament, and Johnson was facing a third party investigation at number 10. Now the British journalists who accompanied the Prime Minister to India have grabbed the latest bombs – and wanted answers.

Johnson was at the front desk – his last travel events – and his aides were caught unaware. The reporters asked if the prime minister had been fined, hoping to ask Johnson directly on a long flight back to London. But during the trip, they were told that he would not come from the plane to chat, as is customary on such trips, because he was asleep.

Johnson has been fined once during the Easter break for attending his own birthday party in violation of the blocking rules in June 2020, and on Tuesday before leaving for Delhi, he gave Parliament a deep apology.

But the story that refuses to leave has picked up again. Can he survive the second fine? Would he apologize a second time? How many more fines and excuses could there be?

In London, number 10 said he had not been fined again if anyone was aware – but there was no categorical denial that anyone could come or be in place.

After these last few days of Johnson’s premiere, two things are much clearer than last weekend. First of all, just as Johnson wants to draw a line for Partygate, everyone in Westminster now knows that he will definitely not be able to do so in the foreseeable future. And second, more and more Conservative MPs are losing confidence in their leader because they feel they can no longer defend his behavior in front of their constituents.

As one of the party’s great leaders commented on Wednesday, two weeks before the local elections: “Colleagues are just bored. They are depressed that they wake up every morning to confront their mailboxes full of party hatred. They feel that they can no longer defend it against people and do not want to be associated with it. “

The former cabinet minister added on Friday that Johnson could stagger until the fall, but it was clear that he was leaving. The election asset became an election liability. “There could be three or four more fines and three or four more apologies, then a Metropolitan Police report, then a Sue Gray report, which is likely to be very critical, and now we have a parliamentary report that takes months,” the minister said. “Then, Boris is Boris, he’ll do other things.” There is no doubt where it will all end. “

On Tuesday, Johnson still seemed to believe that regretting the fine for the birthday party could get him. Late in the afternoon, he stood up in the House of Commons with the most apologetic and humble face he could, and apologized again and again. “I say quite clearly that I am not diminishing the importance of this fine in any way,” was his response to an intervention by veteran MP Sir Bill Cash. “I sincerely apologize for my mistake and fully accept the decision of the police.”

However, the prime time of the prime minister was very short. Hours later, after former Conservative chief Mark Harper announced he could no longer support him, Johnson spoke at a Conservative backbenchers meeting in committee in 1922 and seemed to be fully recovering.

The audience was taken aback by how suddenly the prime minister’s mood had improved. But not all of them were cheered up by his rediscovered good humor. “He just tried to make a lot of jokes,” said one former minister who was there. “It was as if he had a speech after dinner. There was no sign of humility a few hours ago, I don’t think he was thinking about what he meant, and it didn’t turn out well. He eventually lost his room. He said he was determined to continue working, but as if violating it no longer mattered.

The next day, the Prime Minister’s questions were met with a terrible absence of normal support noise behind Johnson. Did something changed. “It was so conspicuous,” the Labor MP said. “You could see his authority leaving.”

Labor demanded that Johnson be referred to the Commons Committee to find out if he had deliberately misled the House of Commons for losing parties that he had previously denied would ever take place. As the news spread about the Labor proposal, Conservative MPs became increasingly concerned about the proposals to order them to block 10. “There were a lot of Tories in perfect order,” said the frontbencher, “because they feared what their constituents would say if they voted against further violations. They kept saying ‘Owen Paterson, Owen Paterson’ and that number 10 was not taught. “

Aware of this disaster, Conservative Whips and No. 10 drew up a compromise plan that included modifying the Labor proposal to move its start date back to the time after the Met report was published between the parties. But even that was too much for many conservatives, who lost patience as they were told how to respond to Partygate and how to vote for it. They knew what he was thinking. Conservative MPs hung around the House, saying they would not play with the ball. It was a silent uprising, but it showed that the prime minister had suddenly lost control of his troops in parliament.

One former minister said he had been contacted by his constituency to say the matter should be investigated by the Commons Privileges Committee, as Labor had demanded, so that all details of Johnson’s advice on parties and photos and the truth could be erased. become famous. Several lower ministers have threatened to resign. Another ex-minister said: “I said to the whips ‘by no means’ – I will not be there on Thursday’s vote, no matter what happens.”

There were frantic phone calls between London and Ahmedabad, where a tired and overheated Johnson could not escape domestic events and feared a mass uprising within his own parliamentary ranks. On Thursday morning, ministers hoisted a white flag and withdrew the amendment, allowing conservative MPs to vote on the Labor proposal for free. Later that day – without a single conservative – – MEPs approved a Labor proposal to launch an emergency.

Extraordinarily, it ended with a description of Johnson’s previous statements to parliament, in which he denied knowing about the parties, as comments that “seem to be wrong to the House.” And no Conservative objected, while Steve Baker, one of the few who actually got into the House, told the House: “The Prime Minister should be long gone. The prime minister should know that the concert is beginning. “Two days earlier, he had publicly supported Johnson.

The work was bloated. Officials said they had managed to prevent the government from changing the agenda before the local elections and luring them into the trap due to problems such as Priti Patel’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In his speech, Keir Starmer stepped forward and focused on trust in politics and the future of democracy to protect himself from accusations that he politicized Partygate. However, after the vote, he went down to the Strangers bar and bought everyone a drink, knowing that Johnson would not escape the matter for many months if he remained in office.

That night, in a BBC report at 22:00, the main item came from India and showed that Johnson was facing questions about the vote and new questions from Partygate. The second point was Chancellor Rishi Sunaka in Washington, DC, who spoke of the fine he also received for violating blocking rules. So much for “continuing work”.

MEPs are now assessing the impact this has on voters ahead of the May 5 municipal elections. Many Conservative MPs are awaiting the results before deciding whether to write letters of no confidence to Johnson Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee.

Another Tory grande, who was on the trail of the election campaign on Saturday, said his impression was that the Conservatives’ vote was holding relatively tightly in many areas. However, he noted that there is a “significant minority” of Conservative voters who now say, “Not as long as Boris is prime minister. He suggested that this number could be large enough to send Conservative councilors to defeat some key areas, and as a result it could have an impact on the overthrow of Johnson’s prime minister.