Is Boris Johnson on the way out?

July 6, 2022 • 10:50 am

This morning I received two emails from British friends suggesting that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is circling the drain. Of course he’s been circling it for a long time, but now he appears to be on the drain’s event horizon. I asked for details but didn’t get them. Eventually another British friend wrote me this:

Two senior cabinet ministers and bunch of junior ones have resigned after revelations that [Johnson] lied about his knowledge of sexual misconduct by an MP he appointed to a post.

Well that was enough to get make me look at the news.

The BBC article below provides what I think is the answer (click to read):

Here’s the summary; the accused appears to be Christ Pincher

Boris Johnson is battling to stay in office, amid a growing wave of resignations from his government in protest at his leadership.

New chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has urged unity after his predecessor, the health secretary, and several junior ministers walked out.

But the prime minister has been hit by six further resignations, taking the total to 16 in the past day.

It comes as he prepares for PMQs later and a grilling by senior MPs.

Mr Johnson’s premiership has been plunged into crisis following the dramatic resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

They quit within minutes of each other on Tuesday following a row over Mr Johnson’s decision to appoint Chris Pincher deputy chief whip earlier this year.

Their departures triggered a wave of resignations from more junior roles that has continued on Wednesday.

In six further departures ahead of PMQs, education ministers Will Quince and Robin Walker, Justice Minister Victoria Atkins, Treasury minister John Glen, and ministerial aides Laura Trott and Felicity Buchan have all walked out.

Mr Johnson has admitted it was a “bad mistake” to appoint Mr Pincher, despite being aware of misconduct allegations against him.

It followed days of changing responses from No 10 over what exactly the PM knew about Mr Pincher’s past conduct when he gave him the job.

Now this would not lead to the removal of a U.S. President: remember how Bill Clinton lied about his own involvement with Monica Lewinsky, and was impeached—but survived?

But it’s interesting to compare the BBC coverage in this article with what would be reported if a U.S. President lied in the same way. The U.S. news would give Pincher’s alleged misconduct in great detail, as we love scandal.

The BBC is more puritanical, putting the emphasis on politics and what could happen to Boris. However, there’s already a Wikipedia article on the row, “Chris Pincher scandal”, which goes back to 2017 when Pincher was accused of inappropriate conduct towards a woman. Then he was accused of groping two men. And here’s what got Johnson into hot water: accusations of covering up this (from the Wikipedia article).

On 3 July 2022 six new allegations against Pincher emerged, involving behaviour over a decade. Three complaints are that Pincher made unwanted advances against other male MPs, one in a bar at the House of Commons and one in Pincher’s parliamentary office. One complainant reportedly gave Downing Street details in February and expressed concerns over Pincher becoming a whip in charge of other MP’s welfare. Pincher maintained he had no intention of resigning as an MP.

Johnson allegedly referred to Pincher as “handsy” and Dominic Cummings said Johnson joked about him being “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” in 2020. There are calls for Johnson to explain how much he knew about Pincher’s behaviour. Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds said: “I think we’ve got to acknowledge what the consistent problem is and it is a Conservative party that repeatedly chooses to do what is politically expedient over what is right. It’s clear from what we know this morning that Chris Pincher should never have been put back into the whips’ office.”

Ministers initially said that Johnson was unaware of any specific complaints against Pincher when he was appointed as deputy chief whip. Later, Downing Street said Johnson was aware at the time of media reports and allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”. The BBC then reported, however, that an official complaint and subsequent investigation into Pincher, while he was at the Foreign Office (July 2019 to February 2020), had confirmed his misconduct, and that Johnson had been made aware of the matter at that time. Sir Simon McDonald, former Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, later confirmed that the prime minister had been briefed “in person” about Pincher. McDonald said that in the summer of 2019, a group of officials had “complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour. In substance, the allegations were similar to those made about his behaviour at the Carlton Club.”

Will Boris go? Should he go for not proceeding to act against Pincher for making advances?

We’ll have a poll, but first here are the BBC’s scenarios of how he could go down the drain as PM:

How could Boris Johnson go?

  • If party bosses change the one-year rule on leadership challenges, rebel Tory MPs could try again to oust him later this summer, or in the autumn
  • If Mr Johnson lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, he would have to resign or call an election
  • Otherwise, he would have to resign himself – possibly in the face of cabinet pressure, like Margaret Thatcher – or after a fresh wave of ministerial resignations

I know squat about what would happen if Boris went, and will depend on Brits to inform me in the comments. If he resigns, who would replace him? If there’s an election to replace him, would the Tories still win?

And our poll about Boris’s fate. Please give your best prognostication; I’m always disappointed in how few people give an opinion. It’s just for fun—a survey of reader sentiment.

Will this scandal lead to Boris Johnson's removal as Prime Minister?

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47 thoughts on “Is Boris Johnson on the way out?

  1. Johnson is definitely on borrowed time. The 1922 Committe are looking at changing their rules to allow a second confidence vote. A delegation of ministers of currently waiting at Downing Street to tell him he has to go.

  2. Is Boris Johnson on the way out?

    Yep, he’s toast.

    I know squat about what would happen if Boris went, …

    The Tory party would have a leadership contest. The winner would then command the confidence of the House of Commons (given the Tory majority in the House) and hence would be the new PM.

    If there’s an election to replace him, would the Tories still win?

    There wouldn’t be an election to replace him. The new PM could call an election, but likely would not.

  3. I was literally about to say “Yup, he’s toast!” , but I see that Coel has beaten me to it. BBC Radio 4’s PM news programme is reporting live from parliament right now and just listed many prominent Conservative MPs who are waiting to tell the prime minister that it’s time to go.

  4. Watching from afar it seems that Boris should have blown himself up (politically) long ago, a victim of his own buffoonish personality. But having lived through the tRumpian catastrophe and the subsequent fallout, chaos seems the order of the day no matter what and who knows what happens next.

      1. As Sam Harris pointed out while Trump was still just a candidate, a random person whose name was plucked from the phone book would likely be more competent and less dangerous.

  5. As I type this it seems to be end-game. A number of senior ministers have gone and seen him to say that they cannot support him as leader, including one, Nadhim Zahawi, who Johnson appointed only yesterday to be Chancellor (Finance minister). The mood is febrile within the Conservative party at the moment and the UK is just waiting for the inevitable. Even Tory supporting papers such as the Telegraph and Mail have turned against him with the Times writing a savage editorial this morning.

    It is political theatre of the highest order and I, for one, can’t wait to see the back of the mendacious oaf.

  6. but now he appears to be on the drain’s event horizon

    Hopefully the analogy holds true and Mr. Johnson will disappear beyond the event horizon boundary never to affect any observer again.

  7. Boris has been a dead man walking since Tories lost the North Shropshire before Christmas. The reality is not many in his own party want to be holding the can as Brexit, cost of living and various scandals come home to roost. That has held him in the position as no one can rally enough support to take him out and then win the following leadership battle.

    Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any decent candidates who will steer a different course on policies from Brexit to cost of living.

  8. It’s interesting to see all of the resignations, and compare that to the lack of resignations in the Trump administration. So many of Trump’s crew wouldn’t do the right thing, but chose to do what was politically expedient.

    1. Cabinet ministers in Westminster parliaments have to seek re-election as MPs if they hope to continue their political careers. Once the boss looks too badly wounded to hurt them, they jump ship or organize a coup.

      Same characters, just different incentives.

  9. If this was the only thing that had gone wrong for BJ, I would have no hesitation in saying he would survive.

    Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long line of screw* ups on his part. He broke his own lockdown rules by attending parties of his staff at Number Ten. He then lied about breaking the rules to Parliament. He has presided over a number of political mis-steps that have reduced his standing and the standing of his party in the country including trying to break an international treaty on Northern Ireland, sending refugees to Rwanda for no good reason other than appeasing the rabid xenophobes in the country. He is also presiding over an economic catastrophe caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by Brexit – which he also caused.

    The bottom line is that his actions may cause the Conservatives to lose the next general election and it is that which the party finds unforgivable.

    Edit: BJ is not as ignorant as Tr*mp but he is just as oafish, just as lazy and just as mendacious.

    *pun not intended but allowed to stand anyway.

    1. Not to mention the illegal prorogation of parliament.

      And not just “screw ups” – there’s a reason that the hashtag BloJo was trending last week…

  10. Interesting that so many Brit officials resign when the PM lies about matters like social events during covid lockdown, or knowledge of a parliamentary deputy whip’s misbehaviors. One can hardly imagine what they would do (shoot themselves? walk the plank?) if the PM lied his head off every day, blocked aid to Ukraine mandated by the legislature, tried to reverse the outcome of an election, etc. etc.

    The difference in political culture between northern Europe and the US is breathtaking, and on this side is related to that claim that the US public is fragile to the point of invalidism. Remember the argument that it would be too traumatic for the delicate sensitivities of the public to experience impeachment of a president? Or an ex-president’s indictment for transparently criminal activity? The latter argument was offered by President Ford when he awarded Nixon a blanket pardon. That line of argument reminds me of the rampant safetyism and the bleating about “microaggressions”, “trigger warnings”, and all the rest of it, in the US groves of academe.

    1. If Boris Johnson is toppled as PM he will not be prosecuted for anything. It’s just not done. Cabinet ministers will support the PM no matter what he does as long as he seems likely to win re-election for them all. If he becomes a political liability, out he goes. It’s really the only check on the power of a PM leading a majority government, but it’s merciless when it’s used.

  11. The UK Tory party cares about ONE thing above all- POWER,-how to gain it, how to retain it – Tory MPs are terrified of losing their seats in the House of Commons at the next UK General Election, so Boris J, now seen by them as a massive vote-loser. is indeed toast.

    1. Absolutely – even their heroine Margaret Thatcher was defenestrated when that became politically expedient.

  12. To many people Boris Johnson was a hero for getting Brexit done. But heroes often have heroic personality defects too. So all the people who resented Brexit are only too willing to seize on those defects to punish the hero.

    I expect the next Prime Minister will be a grey manager. No more able politically perhaps but more acceptable in polite society. Strange echoes of Trump and Biden.

    1. If you’re drawing a direct connection, then yes, you are.

      Johnson is mendacious, chaotic, uninterested in detail or in the hard graft of delivering outcomes, happy to give jobs and contracts to his cronies, and genuinely seems to think that the normal proprieties of political life don’t apply to him. Many of us have been appalled at his conduct from the first days of his engagement in politics, let alone the way he has demeaned the office of Prime Minister.

      But that’s not why he’s toast. All too many Tories have been prepared to overlook his many faults as long as he looked like an election winner. Now that the country is turning against him, some of them are belatedly growing a pair.

      My prediction is that he will be forced out and replaced by a “safe pair of hands” who will go on to lose the next election by a considerable margin.

    2. Johnson’s attitude to Putin is aligned with whatever serves himself best. The Conservative Party has accepted millions of pounds in political donations from Russians, and Johnson personally sat on a report exposing the risks posed by Russian infiltration into British politics until after the 2019 general election. Just today he has admitted to meeting a former Russian agent without any minders present.

      Johnson’s trips to Kyiv have been fortuitously timed to avoid personally embarrassing meetings and events in parliament. He has form on this: he once flew on an unannounced and unnecessary trip to Afghanistan simply to avoid a debate on a new runway at Heathrow airport. (He had previously said that he would lie down in front of a bulldozer to stop it, so didn’t want to have to vote in favour of it.) He might well be pro-Ukraine, but a lot of his motivation is self-serving and trying (rather feebly) to portray himself as a successor to his hero Winston Churchill.

  13. Maya, I’m not sure that The Johnson is “the most adamant anti-Putin” as that he is probably the most pro-Zelenskyy politician in Europe. Supporting him is most likely to burnish The Johnson image, in his own mind anyway, in the same way that standing up to Hitler did great things for Churchill’s reputation. And we all know that The Johnson appears to think he’s some sort of reincarnation of Winston. Johnson is always more pro-Johnson than he is pro-anyone else.

  14. In the USA the electorate cannot depose inadequate presidents or Supreme Court judges. In the EU the electorate cannot depose inadequate Commissioners. In the UK the fear of the electorate can depose Prime Ministers. If the ability to get rid of failed leaders is an important criterion of a democracy, then I would rather live in the UK than in the USA or the EU.

    1. The big difference between a UK Prime Minister and a US President is that the President is head of state, the PM is just the leader of the party or coalition that has a majority in parliament. Changing the head of state in the UK is more difficult than in the US, but the head of state in the UK has much less power. I think the thing to better democracy is to ensure that power does not go to individuals or small groups.

  15. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a distant cousin of the Queen, isn’t as stupid and illiterate as Trump. He studied classics at Oxford and there isn’t a question of him having bought a place as there is with Trump. He did go to an elite expensive private school called Eton College as a child and is, I believe, the 20th Prime Minster to have gone there. It’s been described as being like Hogwarts but it isn’t magic and all the kids are in Slitherin! The problem is he is lazy and doesn’t take anything seriously. He has surrounded himself with idiots in his cabinet who know they are only there because he needs them. Our culture minister for example makes gaffe after gaffe. Yesterday she thought that Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Milan mural The Last Supper was in London because a copy was involved in a protest! Totally unfit but she looks at Boris as if he is some kind of super Adonis. The government is an absolute laughing stock. It depends on the conservative party’s 1922 committee now. They have a rule that there can only be one confidence motion in the conservative leader in a 12 month period and he survived one by 61% to 39% a few weeks ago. The chairman of that committee is in with Boris this evening I understand ( it is approaching 8PM here as I write) There are suggestions that they will change that rule and then he will be finished. There is scandal after scandal with this government and corrupt behaviour all the time. There were people giving their friends contracts for covid essentials, for example. This is the worst government we’ve ever had and the man is contemptible.

    This is a genuine part of a school report he had from Eton. The word half in this contect means a semester. He hasn’t changed.

    “Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies. [He] sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the school for the next half).”

    “I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.”

  16. I think he just might survive. If he can survive ‘Party gate’, where he showed that what is good for the people does not apply to his arrogant self and his equally despicable ‘elite’ buddies, I’d think he can survive anything.
    Moreover, he’s pretty good on the Ukraine war.

  17. As a strong supporter of Brexit I was delighted when the Conservatives won the 2019 election with a thumping majority, thereby ensuring our departure from the EU and saving us from the catastrophe of a Jeremy Corbyn government. I always hoped (and assumed) that beneath his dishevelled, often clownish exterior, Boris was an astute politician who would deliver what his core voters wanted – sound public finances, far-reaching reform of the NHS, Civil Service and other bloated public institutions, increased investment in the “left-behind” regions of England, law & order and a crackdown on illegal immigration. Sadly, he’s been a disappointment on all fronts. The national debt has skyrocketed, largely due to the costs of our insane covid lockdowns, inflation is soaring and our energy situation is precarious, thanks to Boris’s addiction to ruinous and futile “net-zero” commitments. He refuses to take the firm measures needed to stop the flood of illegal migrants across the Channel, and on his watch the fanatics of BLM, Extinction Rebellion and other malcontents have been free to flout the law with impunity. Meanwhile rampant wokery goes unchecked, contaminating every state institution and sphere of life. Besides the policy failures he’s also shown himself to be shallow, disorganized, mendacious and hypocritical. So, yes, he has to go, as soon as possible.The Conservatives need a new leader with grit, determination and the ability to make tough decisions and see them through. They still have a solid parliamentary majority and up to two years before the next general election – enough time to deliver on the promises of 2019.

    1. A perfect encapsulation of the deranged ‘thinking’ which propelled a known liar with a track record of incompetence and broken promises into power. Egregious as it is to say ‘told you so’, told you so. Wallace is the best bet to replace him.

      1. “…a known liar with a track record of incompetence and broken promises”. I don’t disagree with your assessment of him, but the alternative in 2019 was a government led by an Israel-hating Marxist fossil, a dire threat to national security with a track record of support for both Islamic and Irish terrorism. Faced with that choice, I voted for Boris Johnson. I don’t regret doing so, despite his failings since then.

  18. He’s a dead man walking. The reasons he should resign are legion but I expect him to cling on till the last second he can. The Tories have woken up to the fact that if they keep him they will lose the next election by a landslide so they will drag him out.

    1. Yup, it was reported by Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings that Boris had remarked “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature” before appointing him as deputy chief whip (ironically, one of a whip’s duties is to deal with allegations of sexual assault). It is Johnson’s denial of knowing about Pincher’s past offending that has got him into the hole he is currently in.

  19. There was a previous attempt to save Boris Johnson from scandal, called “Operation save Big Dog”, but my golden retriever – the dumbest mammal on the planet – would be a better Prime Minister than ‘BoJo”. I knew one of Boris Johnson’s teachers, who told me he was a narcissist, lazy and a bully at school. Unfortunately for the U.K., he has never changed.

  20. UKPoster notes above that “Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson… isn’t as stupid and illiterate as Trump”.
    We in the US have a tradition of what may be called neurodiversity in politics. Our presidents ranged in
    brainpower from Trump and Andrew Johnson up to Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and Bill Clinton. In
    the legislative branch, we had John Kerry and Mitt Romney who speak French well, to reps barely able to speak one language, such as Taylor–Greene of “gazpacho police” fame. As we say, a BIG country.

  21. As more have resigned today it is likely that he will go or certainly be pushed. I see all this from a different perspective. A new PM and government may get back to the table with the EU and deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol which allows NI to be effectively part of the EU for trade. By the way this is the one part of the UK that had prospered after Brexit. There is significant paperwork involved now in getting goods to NI from UK but this can be dealt with through negotiations. Not the Boris approach to break the Withdrawal Treaty that the UK signed with the EU after 4 years of negotiation. But then I live in Ireland so this matters to me.

    1. Behold the power of Ceiling Cat! It just took PCC asking the question (“Is Boris Johnson on the way out?”) and 24 hours later he’s going.

      1. Oh dear. Will the British public be able to cope with the trauma of having a PM resign as party leader, and then as PM? The US public, we are often told, could not handle any comparable shock. Are readers of this website in the UK beginning to feel unsafe?

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