Fines, rage and panic on the port side: how political chaos followed Johnson to India | Boris Johnson

An hour or so before Boris Johnson was to fly back to Britain from Delhi on Friday night – after a two-day trade mission to India – some electrifying news broke up on Twitter. Anushka Asthana, ITV’s deputy political editor, had tweeted it “The fines land in people’s inboxes in connection with the garden event on 20 May 2020 – BYOB [bring your own bottle] event – which Boris Johnson attended ”.

The journey to India had already been overshadowed by Partygate. The Tories had endured a terrible week in parliament, and Johnson was facing a third inquiry into No. 10 parties.

Johnson was at a business reception – his last event on the trip – and his helpers had been caught unawares by the news. Journalists asked if the Prime Minister had also been fined and hoped to ask the question directly to Johnson himself on the long flight back to London. But during the trip, they were told that he would not get off the plane to chat, as is usual on such trips, because he slept.

Johnson had already been fined once during the Easter holidays for attending his own birthday celebration in June 2020 in violation of the lockdown rules, and he had issued a gross apology to parliament on Tuesday before flying to Delhi.

But the story, refusing to go away, picked up speed again. Could he survive another fine? Would he give another excuse? How many more fines and excuses can there be?

Back in London, No 10 said he had not been fined again as far as anyone was aware – but it did not fall into a categorical refusal that one could come, or could already be in the post.

After the last few days of Johnson’s premiere, two things are now far clearer than they were last weekend. First, much as Johnson wants to draw a line under Partygate, everyone in Westminster now knows he certainly will not be able to do so any time soon. And second, more and more Tory MPs are losing faith in their leader and feel they can no longer defend his behavior to their constituents.

As one of the party’s big men commented on Wednesday with local elections in two weeks: “Colleagues are just bored of it all. They are depressed that they wake up every morning to confront their inboxes filled with all this hatred about parties. They feel they can no longer defend it to people and they do not want to be associated with it. “

A former minister added on Friday that Johnson could falter by the autumn, but it was clear he was on his way out. He had turned from an election activist to an election official. “There could be three or four fines more and three or four apologies more, then the Metropolitan police report, then the Sue Gray report, which in all likelihood will be very critical, and now we have a parliamentary report going on for several months.” said the Minister. “Then Boris, like Boris, will destroy other things. There is no doubt where all this will end.”

On Tuesday, Johnson still believed that remorse over the fine for the birthday party could get him through. Late in the afternoon he got up in Fælleden, wearing the most apologetic and humble face he could muster, and said sorry again and again. “I make it very clear that I am in no way minimizing the importance of this fine,” was his response to an intervention by veteran MP Sir Bill Cash. “I’m deeply sorry for my mistake and I completely accept the police decision.”

But the period of Prime Minister remorse was very short. A few hours later, after former Tory chief whip Mark Harper announced he could no longer support him, Johnson spoke to a meeting of conservative backers in the 1922 committee and appeared to have fully recovered.

Those present were struck by how suddenly the Prime Minister’s mood had improved. But they were not all encouraged by his rediscovered good humor. “He was just trying to make a series of jokes,” said a former minister who was there. ‘It was as if he was giving a speech after dinner. There were no signs of humility in hours earlier. I do not think he had thought about what he wanted to say, and it did not go well. Eventually he had lost the room. He said he was determined to get on with the job, but it was as if his breach meant nothing more. “

The next day, by the Prime Minister’s question, there was an eerie absence of the normal supportive noise behind Johnson. Something had changed. “It was so remarkable,” a Labor MP said afterwards. “You could see his authority running away.”

Labor demanded that Johnson be referred to a Commons committee to determine whether he had deliberately misled Commons over lockdown-breaking parties that he had previously denied had ever taken place. As word of the Labor movement spread, Tory MPs became increasingly concerned about proposals that No. 10 would order them to block it. “There were lots of Tories in a complete state,” said a Labor frontbencher, “because they feared what their constituents would say if they voted to oppose another investigation of violations. They kept saying ‘Owen Paterson, Owen Paterson, “and that No. 10 had not learned his lesson.”

Aware of the accident, the Tory whips and No. 10 drafted a compromise plan that included amending the Labor proposal to push its start date back to after the Met report on parties has been published. But even that was too much for many tories who had lost patience with being told how to react and vote on Partygate. They knew what they were thinking. Tory MPs walked around the Commons saying they would not play ball. It was a quiet revolt, but one that talked a lot about the Prime Minister’s sudden loss of control of his troops in Parliament.

A former minister said his constituency chairman had contacted him to say the matter should be investigated by the Commons’ Privileges Committee, which Labor demanded so that all the details of advising Johnson on parties and photographs could be flushed out and the full truth could be known . Several junior ministers threatened to resign. Another former minister said: “I told the whips ‘no way’ – I would not be there for the vote on Thursday, no matter what happened.”

Hectic phone calls were made between London and Ahmedabad, where a tired and overheated Johnson had been unable to escape domestic events and feared a mass uprising in his own parliamentary ranks. So on Thursday morning, ministers raised the white flag and withdrew the amendment, giving Tory MPs a free vote on the Labor proposal. Later that day – without a single Tory being against it – MPs approved the Labor proposal to set up the additional inquiry.

Extraordinarily, it ended by describing Johnson’s previous statements to Parliament, in which he had refused to have knowledge of parties that took place, as comments that “appear to be tantamount to misleading Parliament”. And no Tory protested, while Steve Baker, one of the few who actually entered the hall, told Parliament: “The Prime Minister should now be too far away. The Prime Minister should just know that the concert is ready. Two days earlier had he publicly supported Johnson.

Labor was the cock-a-hoop. Officials said they had succeeded in preventing the government, prior to the local elections, from changing the agenda and enticing them into traps over issues such as Priti Patel’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Keir Starmer had taken the plunge in his speech focusing on confidence in politicians and the future of democracy to protect himself from accusations that he politicized Partygate. After the vote, however, he went down to Strangers’ bar and bought a drink for everyone, knowing for sure that Johnson would not escape the problem for many months to come if he remained in office.

That night on the BBC News at. At 10pm, the main topic came from India and showed that Johnson was facing questions about the vote and the new Partygate queries. The second point contained the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in Washington, who spoke about the fine he had also received for violating the lockdown rules. So much for “getting on with the job”.

Members of parliament are now assessing the effects all this has on voters before the local elections on 5 May. Many Conservative MPs are waiting for the results before deciding whether to write letters expressing distrust of Johnson to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee.

Another Tory grandee, who had been on the campaign trail on Saturday, said his impression was that the Conservative vote held up fairly firmly in many areas. But he noted that there was a “significant minority” of Tory voters who now said, “Not while Boris is prime minister.” This number, he suggested, could be large enough to send conservative city councilors to defeat some key areas and possibly, as a result, have the contagious effect of lowering the curtain on Johnson’s presidency.

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