Good morning. Boris Johnson’s position as Conservative party leader and prime minister is more perilous than ever before but, after a wretched and humiliating day – which also saw open warfare break out between the party in Scotland and the UK national leadership – his future is unclear, because the parliamentary party collectively is still making up its mind about what to do next.
We were due to hear from him this morning, because he had a visit planned in Lancashire. But that has been cancelled “due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus”, Downing Street says. A No 10 spokesperson said:
The prime minister will no longer be visiting Lancashire today due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus. He will follow the guidance for vaccinated close contacts, including daily testing and limiting contact with others.
Most Tory MPs who have commented on Johnson’s leadership say they want to wait until they read the findings of Sue Gray’s report into all the partygate allegations. But Gray is a senior civil servant, which means that she probably takes the view that ultimately whether or not the PM stays is a political judgment that ought to be taken by politicians (his colleagues). Last night Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary at the Treasury, posted this on Twitter.
The Gray report may come next week, but if Macpherson and others are right, it won’t clearly settle the issue of whether or not the PM should go.
Although many Tory MPs are privately saying that Johnson’s position is untenable, but there is little evidence that they are working actively to get rid of him. Last night Kitty Donaldson, Bloomberg’s political editor, said she thought only four of them have written letters to the 1922 Commitee chairman asking for a confidence vote.
And so far only four Tory MPs (Sir Roger Gale, Douglas Ross, William Wragg and Caroline Nokes) have called for Johnson’s resignation. The Spectator is keeping a tally.
MPs will making a judgment about the impact Johnson’s leadership will have on their chances of re-election, and this morning a new YouGov poll gives Labour its biggest lead over the Conservatives since 2013.
But even polling figures like this won’t necessarily settle the issue for the parliamentary party. MPs will remember that being 10-points behind Labour in 2013 did not stop the Conservatives winning the subsequent election, and there is no consensus over who would succeed Johnson if there were a contest, and whether they would definitely do much better.
So the party seems stuck at the moment. But that does not make Johnson’s position safe and his difficulties were illustrated this morning when the cabinet minister doing interviews this morning failed to deny reports that privately Johnson has been telling colleagues he has done nothing wrong.
Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, picked this up yesterday.
And several papers report the same thing today. “MPs were also irritated by the prime minister appearing less contrite in private conversations after his Commons appearance than he had been in public,” the Guardian reports.
The Times (paywall) reports the same thing. It says:
Within minutes of delivering a “heartfelt” apology to the Commons for attending a drinks event in the garden of No 10 during the first lockdown, Boris Johnson had a somewhat different message for Tory MPs in the tearoom.
The prime minister was, according to those present, far from contrite. He told colleagues that “we have taken a lot of hits in politics and this is one of them”, adding: “Sometimes we take the credit for things we don’t deserve and this time we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve.”
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said that Johnson took a similar tone when he spoke to him yesterday afternoon. He said that the prime minister told him that he “believes he didn’t do anything wrong”.
And here is an excerpt from the FT’s story (paywall).
Several MPs said Johnson was still in denial. “He said that sometimes in life you get the credit for things you don’t deserve, while sometimes you get the blame for something you don’t deserve, too,” said one Tory MP. “He goes through his life thinking he doesn’t deserve the blame.”
Asked about these reports on the Today programme, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, dismissed them as “tittle tattle that may or may not have come out of the [Commons] tea room”. He said he had not heard Johnson himself say that he was not to blame for what happened, and he said Johnson was “very, very sincere” in his apology.
I will be focusing mostly on the fall-out from this crisis today. Johnson is not doing his visit, but we will get a No 10 lobby briefing, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, will be taking questions in the Commons.
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