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Boris Johnson Allies Insist "Dial Hasn't Shifted" On His Leadership Despite Police Party Inquiry

4 min read

Senior Conservative MPs seem to have thrown Boris Johnson a lifeline, and have not mobilised to oust him as Prime Minister, despite backbench fury over this morning's launch of a police investigation into Downing Street parties during lockdown.

While there were initially expectations that the police investigation would be the final straw for detractors of Johnson who had been holding off sending in letters to the 1922 committee, no significant threat of a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister emerged on Tuesday.

One red-wall Tory said Johnson is in the “same place” as he was several days ago when it comes to the letters, and Johnson loyalists and government staff PoliticsHome spoke to remain convinced the “dial hasn’t shifted” for the Prime Minister.

“When I chat to colleagues, many of them say ‘he can’t survive, he’s got to go'. But most of them haven't actually submitted letters," a senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome. 

"The Tory party isn’t as ruthless as people like to think, it’s actually surprisingly spineless.”

There is the feeling that Johnson’s birthday party in June 2020, as exposed by ITV News on Monday, is not as significant as other alleged rule-breaking parties, particularly one held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021. 

One government source believed that the Met police investigation would not alter the public view of Johnson, which had already been significantly damaged by the investigation into alleged Downing Street parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

According to a poll by Savanta ComRes, the British public are most outraged by the party held the night before Prince Philips funeral. It showed that 37% say the pre-funeral event was the worst. For 27% say the May 20 garden party was the most egregious, 15% say the original Christmas party and 13% say it was Johnson's birthday party.

Several Cabinet ministers are understood to have reiterated their support for Johnson privately this morning. Shortly after news broke of the Downing Street police inquiry, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told reporters Johnson's leadership had been "so brilliant". 

“The dial hasn’t shifted, it doesn’t feel that way at all,” said one government source.

“People are frustrated by this, and there are people in government who are angry that this has been allowed to happen, but the government has got a job to do in terms of getting out of the pandemic."

After a frantic day in Westminster, is it expected that Gray's report could be published as soon as tomorrow, following initial suggestions that the Met investigation might delay the release of her findings by many months. Downing Street is now believed to be preparing for Johnson to give a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow if the report is published, although were clear that they had not yet received it early on Tuesday evening. 

In a bid to shore up his support ahead of Gray's conclusions being made public, it is understood that allies of the Prime Minister have contacted Tory MPs considered to be most likely to submit 1922 letters with implied promises of government jobs in the future.

"There has been lots of ‘the Prime Minister has always felt you have been overlooked’ and all the usual shit," one MP who had been contacted said. 

A challenge to Johnson's leadership will be triggered if 15% of Conservative PMs — 53 people — submit letters of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady. So far only a handlful of Tory MPs have gone public to say they have submitted a letter, and a source told PoliticsHome they believed that several have since been recalled.

One red-wall Tory MP said the police inquiry is not a trigger point for letters to pour into the committee and the number of letters is likely to be “in the same place”.

But they believed that the public would ultimately expect to see repercussions over the party scandal, whether as a result of the police investigation or Gray's report, and insisted that those in Westminster were concerned about police involvement. 

“No-one underestimates that this isn’t a new level of serious," they said. 

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