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Johnson clings on as mass exodus continues with Lewis departure

Inside Politics: British prime minister refuses to step down despite more than 40 government resignations


The mass exodus from British prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet continued this morning with the departure of Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

“A decent and responsible government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect – it is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld,” Lewis said.

Resignations from government positions now stand in the mid-40s but Johnson clings on.

The front pages of British newspapers are brutal.

‘Mortally wounded PM defies Cabinet demands that he quit’ – The Daily Telegraph;

‘Johnson fights for his life’ – The Times;

‘Just Get Exit Done’ – The Mirror;

‘Desperate, deluded PM clings to power’ – The Guardian;

And – yikes – ‘You’ll have to dip your hands in blood to get rid of me’ – The Sun reporting on Johnson’s defiant message to Tory rebels.

There are not likely to be too many tears shed in the Irish Government at Lewis’s departure.

He has been at the forefront of UK government efforts to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit deal as well as its proposals to bring in an amnesty for Troubles-era crimes perpetrated by British soldiers and paramilitaries.

The latest cabinet member to go, Lewis’s departure follows that of the secretary of state for Wales Simon Hart last night, and of course those of former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid on Tuesday which started it all.

Johnson himself sacked Michael Gove last night as he attempted to assert some power with Downing Street sources reportedly describing his former Brexit ally as “a snake”.

Our coverage of the Westminster chaos from London Editor Denis Staunton.

Good news/bad news on Merrion Street

It was a case of good news/bad news for the inhabitants of Government Buildings last night.

First, the good news.

After a lengthy Garda investigation, and consideration of their findings by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will not face criminal charges over the leaking of a draft GP contract.

This outcome will come as a relief for Varadkar personally and Fine Gael as well as the other Government parties – even if there are undoubtedly some in Fianna Fáil and the Green Party who privately enjoyed their rival’s discomfort.

The result will aid the stable transfer of power later this year when Varadkar is due to return to the Taoiseach’s office.

Jennifer Bray, Olivia Kelly and Conor Gallagher have our report, including comments from Chay Bowes, the healthcare entrepreneur and corporate troubleshooter who had made the leak public.

He said: “There is an air of inevitability about this given that nothing of the machine works against the machine.”

In his analysis, Political Editor Pat Leahy writes that the DPP decision clears the way Varadkar to become Taoiseach again, but he is damaged by the affair.

Now, the bad news for the Coalition: they’ve lost their majority in the Dáil.

It was never massive to begin with but the majority has been falling away for some time.

The departure of Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy from politics, Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry going overboard and the temporary loss of the whip of Green Party TDs Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello all contributed.

Now, as Sarah Burns and Jennifer Bray report, Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh has resigned the party whip after voting against Government legislation underpinning the €2.7 billion mica redress scheme.

The Coalition’s majority is gone as it can now only count on 79 votes out of the Dáil’s 160 TDs. The Government should be able to muddle on and win Dáil votes. It is expected that Hourigan and Costello will vote with the Government before their return to the Green Party fold in November.

The Coalition also usually has the backing of Independents such as Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish, though relying on such support is not ideal.

With a week to go to the Dáil recess there are not too many votes before the summer – though there are big ones upon the return to Leinster House with the Budget looming at the end of September.

Sinn Féin won’t be shy in tabling Dáil motions that could expose further divisions in the Government benches and lead more Coalition TDs to jump ship.

Best Reads

Eoin Burke-Kennedy has a front page story on a warning from the Central Bank that half of the Government’s corporation tax receipts might be “unsustainable” or at risk.

Pat Leahy has details of the Government’s plan to introduce a tax on vacant properties in September’s Budget.

Columnist Newton Emerson writes about how there is no point in the European Union negotiating with ‘lame duck Johnson’.

Playbook

The Dáil starts today with Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris taking Parliamentary Questions at 9am.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman is next up at 10.30am

Leaders’ Questions is at noon.

Government Business including legislation on planning and development and tipping in restaurants is from 1.44pm, followed by Topical Issues at 8.04pm.

Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins has a Private Member’s Bill on corporate governance and gender balance which will be debated from 8.52pm.

The Department of Education is before the Public Accounts Committee at 9.30am.

Click the links for the full Dáil, Seanad and committee schedules.