For the last four days, the chaos of British politics was put on pause.
The Queen’s jubilee — a celebration of the 70 years of the monarch’s reign — meant many in Britain were focused on the celebrations, where images of street parties, balcony appearances and colorful parades down the Mall engulfed national papers and TV programming.
Boris Johnson, whose premiership has been engulfed in scandal for months after it emerged he attended illegal parties during lockdown — and who subsequently, became the first sitting UK Prime Minister to be found guilty of breaking the law — was able to appear at legitimate gatherings outside Buckingham Palace on Saturday and Sunday, enjoying a brief respite from the constant speculation about his job security (although he was booed as he arrived to a religious service at St Paul’s Cathedral with his wife, Carrie on Friday.)
However that calm was shattered at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, when a long-expected confidence vote in Boris Johnson was announced.
Johnson was always expected to survive the vote. Three of his predecessors as Conservative Prime Minister have faced leadership challenges during their stint — only Margaret Thatcher succumbed.
The final result, though, is about as bad as any of the Prime Minister’s allies could have expected. A staggering 41% of Johnson’s lawmakers put on record that they have no confidence in their leader; an astonishing outcome less than three years after he claimed a landslide general election victory.
So, what now?
Johnson will wake up on Tuesday in charge of a deeply divided party, with his authority and reputation even further bruised.
He will limp on towards yet another crucial date — June 23 — when two by-elections take place. The Conservatives are tipped to lose both seats and a double defeat will renew clamor among rebelling lawmakers for a change of leadership.
While the party’s rules say Johnson is safe from a confidence vote for another year, those rules can be changed if there’s appetite to do so.
Any new bill he wishes to put before Parliament will likely need to approval of dozens of his rebels to pass. If the MPs who voted against him on Monday decide to do so, they can essentially put a stranglehold on his government.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party, which has led Johnson in opinion polls throughout 2022, will gleefully remind the public at any given opportunity that many of Johnson’s own colleagues don’t back him.
It’s a remarkable contrast to December 2019, when after a thumping electoral success, some observers were predicting the new decade would bring a fresh Tory dynasty, built in Johnson’s image.
Instead, Johnson is a prime minister in survival mode. And even though he’s said Monday’s outcome is “good news,” he will need a drastic turnaround to convince many in his own party — and the British public that he’s still a winner.