In the wake of the first criminal sanctions on a serving British prime minister, by Wednesday morning in excess of 20 cabinet ministers and more than 60 Tory MPs had publicly expressed continued support for Boris Johnson. Only one Tory MP had called for his resignation. It is clear Johnson will try to tough it out and that his party will connive at his shameless political impunity.
The public is not convinced. A snap YouGov poll finds 57 per cent think he should resign, although only 20 per cent of Tory supporters do so. But can he survive further fines and revelations?
The 50 fines imposed by the Metropolitan Police on Johnson, his wife Carrie, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and others, over breaches of Covid laws are likely to be only the first. The Met is investigating no fewer than 12 gatherings, with the prime minister alleged to have attended as many as six. The forthcoming report of senior civil servant Sue Gray is also likely to lift a veil on the partying culture of No 10 Downing Street and particularly whether the prime minister was advised that the parties were illegal.
That issue is crucial to the allegation that he knowingly lied to parliament, an automatic resignation matter. And yet Johnson is still on shaky ground. His defence to the lying claim – that he had been “advised” the gathering in question was not a party – stretches credulity. Does “advice” absolve him from opening his eyes to observe what is happening around him?
Some Johnson supporters have minimised the significance of the fines, equivalent they argue, to speeding tickets and not warranting resignation. But it is a contention that will not wash with the angry bereaved who were denied access to loved ones due to pandemic restrictions. The case that Johnson’s leadership is indispensable in a time of war seems to have stilled some Tory backbench anger. But with that war likely to continue for some time, and historians reminding the public that the UK ousted Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill in 1945 before the defeat of Japan, the prime minister’s backers would seem to be clutching at straws.