LONDON – Britain awoke to a reconfigured political landscape on Tuesday even as its prime minister remained in office. Boris Johnson’s unconvincing victory in a no-confidence vote by his party on Monday leaves him badly damaged, with few obvious ways to revive his fortunes and plenty of opportunity for coup plotters.
With a potentially devastating parliamentary by-election in two weeks and the drumbeat of dire economic news, Johnson’s political standing could deteriorate further. Some rebels in his Conservative Party may be wondering if they acted prematurely by forcing a vote now rather than waiting a few more weeks.
Political analysts said that reflects the incomplete nature of this insurgency. It was not so much a tightly managed coup attempt as it was an organic movement for Tory lawmakers, frustrated after months of revelations about illegal social gatherings in 10 Downing Street at a time when the rest of the country was in isolation for pandemic lockdowns.
Of the deaths, perhaps the most painful has come from William Hague, the former Tory leader who has been relatively restrained in his criticism of Mr Johnson. He told the prime minister frankly to resign.
Mr Hague wrote in The Times of London: “Votes have been cast that show a higher level of disapproval than any Conservative leader has endured and survived.” “In the depths of himself, he must realize this, and turn his mind to come out in such a way as to preserve the Party and the country from such pains and doubts.”
Nothing in Johnson’s way suggests that he plans to do so. On Tuesday morning, he told a cabinet meeting that it was time to put aside internal divisions over his situation and “start talking about issues that I think people in this country want to talk about.”
Later this week, he is expected to make a series of political announcements calculated to turn the page on the recent turmoil and attempt to remake his government. It is inevitable to talk about another cabinet reshuffle.
The government may also introduce legislation to reform post-Brexit trade rules that govern Northern Ireland. That may satisfy the party’s Brexit supporters, some of whom voted against Johnson on Monday. But it will antagonize the European Union at a time when Britain cannot afford more turmoil.
The bigger question facing Johnson is how he will pass difficult legislation when more than 40 per cent of his lawmakers voted to oust him. Having to rely on the opposition Labor Party to enact policy proposals would be an embarrassing course for a prime minister known for his arrogance.
With soaring food and fuel prices, the government faces tough decisions about taxes and public spending. How you will confront them with a bitterly divided party is not at all clear.
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