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Boris Johnson doesn’t claim to be the best cricketer in the world – or even the best in his own family.
He happily admits that his two younger brothers, Jo and Leo, are both better players. But Johnson is so ultra-competitive that he will never accept losing, even if it is painfully clear to others that his side is headed for defeat.
After a truly blood-curdling 48 hours, many in Westminster believe the British Prime Minister is now facing a humiliating end to his colorful – and consistent – premiership. With 41 percent of his Conservative MPs refusing to support him in an internal party vote Monday night, leading figures in the government and the entire parliament expect him to be gone within months.
But Johnson’s colleagues, critics and biographers all agree on one thing: it will be nearly impossible to persuade this prime minister to resign.
“He never left any of his wives – they’ve always divorced him,” a Tory MP said of the thrice-married prime minister. “It’s the same with No. 10. He will never leave of his own accord. The party will have to kick him out.”
The consequences could be serious for the UK. A protracted battle between Johnson and his party threatens to cripple parliament as groups of rebel Tory MPs refuse to vote through legislation as a security crisis grips Europe and voters at home are hit by a collapse in the cost of living.
But under the UK’s famously vague constitution, a prime minister can choose to remain in office, no matter the circumstances, until voters or their own MPs kick them out. The next general election is not until May 2024.
“Character is destiny,” Tom Bower, one of Johnson’s biographers, told the BBC on Tuesday. “He’s someone who fights to survive.”
According to Andrew Gimson, author of “Boris: The Making of the Prime Minister”, the Prime Minister’s stubborn refusal to accept defeat was hardened during sports, both at school – he attended Eton, Britain’s most exclusive school – and with his siblings at home.
Gimson recalls playing with Johnson on a cricket team two decades ago, against a side led by Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer. Johnson’s opponents that day included a former West Indian international player who brutally hit a succession of bowlers for six, even damaging cars parked some distance away.
But Johnson, who considers himself a decent fast bowler in his heyday, wouldn’t admit defeat.
“We were completely thrashed – but Johnson went bowling, and he took a wicket, he kept going and he encouraged the rest of the team not to give up,” Gimson said. “He always thinks he can win. He will fight until his last breath.”
Gimson cites Johnson’s former teacher at Eton, Martin Hammond, who described the schoolboy as “an absolute berserker” on the rugby field. “There was a lot of screaming and swaying of himself, reckless of life and limb — both his own and other people’s,” Hammond said.
An iconoclastic journalist before entering politics, Johnson has always behaved in a way that suggests he doesn’t believe the normal rules apply to him.
According to Catherine Haddon, of the Institute for Government think tank, Johnson’s political career was forged at the highest level during and after the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. That period was mainly a struggle against the establishment and against sacred parts of the British establishment, such as the civil service.
“He clearly doesn’t want to be limited by the old political rules,” Haddon said. “He supports himself. The story has built up that he is a survivor not to be underestimated. This situation is the ultimate test of that.”
Part of Johnson’s political appeal has always been the public perception that he is not a normal politician operating according to expected standards. While his breach of lockdown rules has put him in deep political jeopardy, this same unconventional image was a major reason why he won a substantial 80-man majority in the 2019 general election.
Two and a half years later, many Tory MPs are now impatient for Johnson to move from “campaign” mode to delivering what they see as a genuine conservative agenda for the government. At the top of the wish list for the right-wing party is a series of long-promised – but yet to be implemented – tax cuts for both workers and businesses.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON APPROVAL REVIEW
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With the rebels failing to oust him in Monday night’s confidence vote, internal party rules say Johnson is safe from another challenge for the next 12 months.
Ironically, some Tories are now adopting Johnson’s own approach to rules that they see as useless—and refusing to let them get in the way. Instead, some senior backbenchers want the Tory party’s leadership rules rewritten so MPs can get another vote to remove Johnson before June 2023.
Since Johnson became prime minister, the Conservative Party’s 1922 committee of backbench MPs, which oversees internal leadership elections, has not discussed changing the rules to allow for another vote before the 12-month grace period. expires.
For a rule change to go through, it would have to become clear to Graham Brady, chairman of the committee, that many more Tories want the Prime Minister gone.
Johnson’s critics believe the impetus for this could come this month, after two impending midterm elections that are expected to end badly for the government, or possibly in the fall, when a parliamentary committee makes its verdict on whether Johnson lied to the government. House of Commons on what he knew about parties breaking the lockdown in Downing Street.
At that point, the 1922 commission could decide to change the rulebook if pressure from the Tory rebels is deemed sufficient. “It is possible that the rules will be changed,” said a party official.
When Theresa May stepped down as prime minister in 2019, the 1922 committee’s board held a secret ballot on whether or not to change the rules this way. The votes were kept in sealed envelopes. Brady went on to tell May that the envelopes would be opened if she refused to set a date for her departure.
Several difficult meetings later, May agreed to resign — and the envelopes were never opened.
So far, in the words of one minister, Johnson is just “surviving.” He avoided a wave of resignations from his government on Tuesday, which could have further destabilized his position. The prime minister is now planning a PR-driven backlash, with big speeches on housing and the economy in the coming days. Amid carefully placed rumors of a government reshuffle, the cabinet remains loyal for now.
Still, the ceasefire is unlikely to last. A new Tory civil war erupts in the eyes of a leading rebel. It’s between MPs on the one hand who think integrity matters in politics, and that Johnson should go, and those who believe he should stay — because he won a personal mandate to lead in 2019.
As for Johnson himself, one senior conservative said, “He only has one approach to adversity, and that’s to try and drive through it.”
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