If at the start of this no confidence vote in Boris Johnson you had asked Conservative MPs for the worst possible result for both the party and the country, this would be pretty close to their answer. A weakened prime minister limps on, but it must be increasingly doubtful that he will lead his party into the next election.
It is as bad a result as any victory can be. With 148 Tory MPs voting to remove him as leader, Boris Johnson has more than two-fifths of his colleagues saying he should go. He has done significantly worse than Theresa May in her leadership contest. She was gone within six months. Yet there is no further mechanism for forcing Johnson out soon. Under the current rules he is now safe for a year, though rules can be changed. Rebels may regret not having waited until the two by-elections later this month that many expect the party to lose.
While his allies will insist this is a win, they know that the rebellion was much bigger than any expected at the start of the day. Far from drawing a line under the leadership issue and enabling the party to move on, the result leaves Johnson likely to find himself pressured and harried, constantly insecure and looking to his flanks. One extremely close ally admitted that there would be very little respite for the prime minister.
Given Johnson’s remarkable powers of survival it is probably wrong to say that he is finished but, rather than ending leadership speculation, this result will leave large questions over whether he can survive even to the end of the year.
Johnson has insisted that he will not resign, portraying the outcome as a “decisive result”. All day his supporters’ position was that a win is a win — and it is hard to see his weak and supine cabinet forcing him to accept that the jig is up. (It is worth remembering that one reason for his survival is that MPs could not see a clear candidate to replace him, a pretty damning indictment of the quality of that cabinet.)
But the narrowness…
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