Boris Johnson Throws Everything Overboard To Save His Job

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

The UK Prime Minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson may be a portly figure, whose pet terrier Dilyn seems to tow him along on their jogs in St James Park, but when it comes to the duck and weave of politics, he’s in the Muhammad Ali class (being an inveterate liar probably helps in this regard).

Here is BoJo’s current employment- and legal-situation as prime minister.

The Metropolitan police has asked about 50 people, including BoJo, to account for their presence, in a questionnaire having legal status, at a dozen social events as part of their inquiry into Covid law breaches.

BoJo is reported to have attended 6 such events.

He continues to insist he broke no rules, but apologized for attending one event which was a BYOB garden party organized by his since-departed principal private secretary on 20 May 2020.

The Met said the questionnaire “asks for an account and explanation of the recipient’s participation in an event” and “has formal legal status and must be answered truthfully”.

It also said: “Recipients are informed that responses are required within seven days. In most cases contact is being made via email. It should be noted that being contacted does not mean a fixed penalty notice will necessarily be issued to that person. Nevertheless, if following an investigation, officers believe it is appropriate because the Covid regulations have been breached without a reasonable excuse, a fixed penalty notice will normally be issued”.

If the Met decides laws have been broken, its findings will be sent to the criminal records office, which will formally issue the fixed penalty notice.

Given that someone was fined for kicking a ball around in a park with their autistic child during the lockdown, it is hard to see how BoJo can avoid even the shortish arm of the law when national newspapers have published photos of him standing next to a colleague who is wearing a tinsel necklace sitting at a table with an open bottle of champagne and cake and a packet of crisps by the side of the tinselled individual.

The intervening factor in all of this is the sudden resignation of the Metropolitan Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, who had long been an all-round disaster in her job. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had given her an ultimatum to come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with the rampant misogyny, racism, and homophobia in her force “in a matter of days or weeks” or face a public declaration of his loss of confidence in her (only the home secretary/interior minister can sack the Commissioner, but such a statement from the mayor would be impossible to overlook).

Dick submitted her proposals, which Khan considered inadequate. At this point Dick saw no alternative but to quit. Dick was renowned for her tin-ear, and allegedly managed her force more like a senior civil servant rather than an operational police office (though it is hard to know what difference either one would have made in her case).

The immediate concern posed by Dick’s resignation was its impact on the continuing Downing Street Partygate investigation. It will be recalled that Dick had refused for months to investigate the Partygate allegations in the face of increasingly credible evidence. The Met has now said the investigation will proceed according to plan despite her resignation.

The other concern is the possible influence BoJo and his allies will seek to exert on the choice of Cressida Dick’s replacement. This individual will assess the results of the completed investigation before forwarding them to the criminal records office for the imposition of penalty or penalties.

A fine (or fines) imposed on BoJo for lockdown breaches will almost certainly persuade more Tory MPs to submit a vote of “no confidence” among their numbers to the head of the Tory committee responsible for tallying these votes. Especially given that BoJo would then have been shown to lie to parliament in denying he had “breached any [lockdown] guidelines”.

It is estimated that so far 30-40 MPs have submitted such “no confidence” votes to this committee, with 54 being the number required to trigger a contest for a Tory leader. BoJo can stand in this contest, but has not said what he intends to do should this eventuate.

The choice of Dick’s replacement will be made by the home secretary/interior minister, Priti Patel, who should have been dismissed by BoJo when she was found by a Cabinet Office inquiry in November 2020 to have violated the ministerial code when she bullied 3 of her civil servants. BoJo took the astonishing step of overruling the result of the inquiry (thereby prompting its head to resign), and Patel managed to keep her job.

Patel is clearly indebted to BoJo. He in turn is in a position where he could be indebted to any Met Commissioner appointed by her, this individual having ultimate responsibility for an inquiry that could see him fined for lockdown breaches, and potentially forced from office. The entire situation is fraught with conflicts of interest.

Patel will have to consult Sadiq Khan in choosing the next Commissioner, and Khan’s made it clear he’ll veto any candidate he considers unsuitable. Khan is in charge of the Met’s budget, which makes his veto virtually impossible to overturn.

Even his allies and friends acknowledge that BoJo is a slippery customer, so it’s perhaps ironical that the individual probably in the best position to ensure that justice is meted out to the reprobate with eel-like properties is his Labour successor as mayor of London.

Parliament is now in the middle of its short February recess, so BoJo, the self-styled Big Dog, gets a respite of sorts, unless something unexpected turns up. The latter is always possible— yet another whistleblown photo of Big Dog in Downing Street with a festive beverage in hand during the lockdown will be all it takes.

In the meantime, however, his party is in a limbo when it comes to turfing him out of Downing Street. Everyone accepts that Big Dog has no future as the party leader, and thus prime minister, but for now his MPs are full of excuses for doing nothing and sitting on their hands.

Their great fear is that BoJo will barely prevail in the resulting vote of no confidence triggered by them, which could provoke him into seeking retribution against these perceived traitors.

Big Dog is known to relish such payback.



Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.