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Johnson’s angry departure from parliament presents Sunak with new dilemmas


Rishi Sunak had hoped to put the psychodrama of Boris Johnson’s premiership behind him and put the brakes on the political roller coaster of recent years. It was wishful thinking.

This week will see the most scathing criticism in living memory by parliament against a former prime minister, with Johnson set to be reprimanded by the cross-party privileges committee.

And Britain’s current prime minister now has just weeks to prepare for a trio of by-elections that his outraged predecessor placed like landmines on his government.

Johnson stepped down as an MP Friday night — at least “for now” — in a Donald Trump-style moment of excitement. He was accompanied by two political acolytes, Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams.

Their departure paves the way for three by-elections, which will be the first major test of Sunak’s leadership – at a time when the mood in the party is already unsettled and Labor has a 15-point lead in the opinion polls.

The Conservatives have lost several seats in the past two years where they held huge majorities – in Tiverton and Honiton, North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham.

Danny Beales, the Labor candidate for Boris Johnson’s former Uxbridge seat © Carl Court/Getty Images

Johnson will relish the possible setbacks for Sunak, a former protege who was one of the ministers who forced him from power in a stampede of resignation a year ago.

But with no sign of other MPs following suit, allies downplayed the idea of ​​a complex ruse. “I don’t think this is part of an elaborate plot to destabilize and overthrow Rishi Sunak,” said Guto Harri, Johnson’s former spokesman.

Instead, Johnson jumped after being told on Thursday he was facing tough sanctions from the privileges committee.

The group of MPs, which meets on Monday – and will publish its findings shortly afterwards – had concluded that Johnson had deliberately lied to MPs when he told parliament he was unaware of celebrations in Downing Street during Covid-19. lockdown.

Members of the committee had agreed to punish Johnson with a suspension of more than 10 days from the House of Commons, which would trigger a recall in his constituency, which in turn could have triggered a by-election.

Johnson, who saw the report early before it was published, decided to jump before being pushed with a blistering attack on what he called a “kangaroo court.” The Privileges Committee responded that Johnson had “questioned the integrity of the House.”

On Sunday, Johnson’s version of events was contradicted by Grant Shapps, a senior cabinet minister, who defended the committee and insisted that its members should be allowed to “continue with their work”.

Grant Shapps rejected the idea that Boris Johnson was forced out
Grant Shapps rejected the idea that Boris Johnson was forced out © Jeff Moore/PA

Shapps, the Secretary of Energy, dismissed the idea that the committee was biased or that Johnson had been forced out by the “establishment”, noting that the seven-member committee had a Conservative majority. “He (Johnson) is the one who has removed himself from the current political scene.”

The former prime minister’s anger was also fueled by the fact that his attempt to shoehorn three of his MP allies – including Dorries and Adams – into the House of Lords was thwarted when Downing Street announced his honorable resignation on Friday.

Allies of Johnson have claimed that he was reassured by Sunak at a meeting on June 2 that the trio would be granted a peerage, albeit delayed to avoid multiple by-elections. But Sunak’s team has insisted that no such promise has been made, and that the list has instead been vetted by the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac).

Downing Street said this weekend that Sunak told Johnson he “would not interfere with the process”, adding: “Any suggestions of promises made or guarantees given are categorically untrue.”

The resumption of civil war within the Tory party could overshadow Sunak’s efforts to prepare not only for the upcoming by-election, but next year’s general election.

Pat McFadden, a Labor frontbencher, said three by-elections would prove there were no “no go areas” for his party: “We’re going to fight them all to win,” he said.

Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge is the easiest target for Labor with a Tory majority of 7,210. Adams enjoyed a more substantial majority of 20,137 in Selby.

Dorries’ former Mid Bedfordshire seat, where she had a majority of 24,664, could prove the biggest challenge and is likely to be targeted by the Liberal Democrats.

Johnson is a diminished figure at Westminster – in March he led a revolt against Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal that attracted just 22 names. “Tidy is tidy” was the opinion of a conservative grandee.

Yet he is still a box office celebrity with huge support among party members, having completed Brexit and led the Tories to a landslide victory in the 2019 general election.

Mark Jenkinson, the MP for Workington, said he was “very sad” that a “political giant” had been forced out of the Commons, blaming it on a “witch hunt”.

Even Sunak’s supporters are nervous that the Johnson soap may not have seen the latest episode.

Shapps downplayed the idea of ​​a future Johnson comeback, tellingly sky news: “I’m sure he has a lot more things he wants to do.”

East Worthing & Shoreham MP Tim Loughton said it was time for Johnson to “shut up and let the adults in government get to work”.

But Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former cabinet minister who was knighted by Johnson on Friday in honor of his resignation, said the former prime minister would be “in pole position” to return as Tory leader if a vacancy came up in the future. are.

“I would strongly caution the Conservative Party management against any attempt to block Boris if he seeks the party nomination in another seat,” he said, adding: “I am looking at an undetermined date in the future when Rishi’s hair has turned gray and he decides to retire and Boris comes back on his charger to save the nation.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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