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Johnson faces UK parliament for first time since no-confidence vote

Joe Jackson
08 June 2022, MVT 14:56
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he chairs a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London, on June 7, 2022. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived on June 6 a vote of no confidence from his own Conservative MPs but with his position weakened after a sizeable number refused to back him. The Brexit figurehead called the 211-148 split a "convincing result, a decisive result". (Photo by Leon Neal / POOL / AFP)
Joe Jackson
08 June 2022, MVT 14:56

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his first appearance in parliament on Wednesday since surviving a no-confidence vote of his own Conservative MPs that has undermined his leadership.

The beleaguered leader's backers are likely to stage a noisy show of support when he steps up for his weekly Prime Minister's Questions at 1100 GMT.

But all eyes will also be eagerly trained on the demeanour of the scores of Tory rebels seated behind him who voted to end his turbulent three-year tenure in power in Monday's dramatic vote.

Critics have warned the political storm is far from over for Johnson, after 148 Tory MPs failed to back him.

"Johnson achieved a remarkable election victory in 2019. But he has let things slide since then," one of them, former cabinet member David Davis, wrote in The Times.

"His victory in (Monday's) vote provides his last chance to get his act together."

Johnson, who has called the 211-148 vote a "convincing result", has vowed to plough on, insisting it was time to "draw a line" under questions about his leadership and the "Partygate" scandal over lockdown-breaking events at Downing Street.

His team has tried to regain the offensive by pointing to a setpiece speech expected in the coming days on new economic support measures, as Britons struggle with a cost-of-living crisis.

There are also growing calls for Johnson to cut taxes to ease the burden on people and reunify his traditionally low-tax party.

"I would like to see cuts where they're possible," Health Secretary Sajid Javid told BBC News.

"And I know that this is something the government is taking very seriously."

'War of attrition'

But many doubt Johnson can recover voters' trust, as the party braces for two parliamentary by-elections this month and an upcoming investigation by MPs into whether he lied to parliament over "Partygate".

Under current Tory rules he cannot be challenged again for a year, which leaves little time for any new leader to emerge before the next general election due by 2024.

The party's "1922 committee" of MPs -- tasked with overseeing leadership challenges -- says it could easily change the rules if a majority backs it.

But there appears little appetite for that among both loyalists and rebels.

Davis said "doing so threatens to destabilise every future Conservative leader" while Javid argued a rule change would be seen as "grossly unfair".

However, Johnson's enemies on his own side still appear to be manoeuvring, with reports he faces a "war of attrition" and "vote strikes" to paralyse the government's legislative agenda.

Such "vote strikes" happened at the end of former Prime Minister Theresa May's three-year stint in office in 2019.

Although most of Johnson's cabinet publicly backed him in the secret ballot, more than 40 percent of the parliamentary party did not -- potentially wiping out his working majority.

'Honourable exit'

The scale of the revolt "constitutes a crisis for Downing Street", King's College London politics professor Anand Menon said.

"I think there's very little doubt that the vulnerability of the prime minister is going to be the single greatest factor shaping what this government does for the foreseeable future," Menon told AFP.

Senior backbencher Tobias Ellwood, who voted against Johnson, said he was living on borrowed time.

"I think we're talking a matter of months, up to party conference (in October)," he told Sky News on Tuesday.

Even without any obvious candidate to succeed him, former Tory party leader William Hague has argued Johnson should now "look for an honourable exit".

Comparing Monday's margin to votes that ultimately toppled Johnson predecessors Margaret Thatcher and May, Hague said it showed "a greater level of rejection than any Tory leader has ever endured and survived".

"Deep inside, he should recognise that, and turn his mind to getting out in a way that spares party and country such agonies and uncertainties," he wrote in The Times.

© Agence France-Presse

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