‘Cult’ of Boris Johnson ‘in death throes’ as Tory support fades
This week’s double parliamentary humiliation marked the “death throes” of the Boris Johnson “cult” with only a rump of loyalists now supporting him, Tory MPs have said.
The former prime minister was forced to plead “hand on heart” that he had not lied to MPs over the Partygate scandal.
He also failed to lead a successful Commons revolt against Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit agreement, which passed the Commons by a huge majority of 486.
In the end, just 22 Tory MPs rebelled against the deal, designed to end the row over the Northern Ireland protocol.
One senior Tory MP told The Independent that the Partygate inquiry and the Brexit vote were the “death throes of Boris cult”, saying the “dying rump” of around 20 to 30 loyalists left would not be able to rebuild support for him in the parliamentary party.
A former Conservative minister put Mr Johnson's support among MPs at around 25. He predicted that could recover “slightly”, but estimated that it could rise to “40 max”.
Simon Hoare, the chair of the NI select committee, said: “In a short period Rishi Sunak has achieved something the other two prime ministers [Mr Johnson and Ms Truss] found out of reach. The rebellion was disappointing, but for some it was causing trouble for trouble’s sake. All but a small handful have turned the page.”
Tory peer and polling guru Lord Hayward said it was “striking” how few Tory MPs joined with Mr Johnson to oppose Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit deal. “There’s a very big message there,” he said.
He told The Independent: “His support is clearly diminished. Is it over? No, it’s not over, but it’s striking that in September 100 names signed his nomination form, and the number who are declared Boris backers has been dropping and dropping.”
He also warned the former prime minister would lose his Uxbridge and Ruislip seat if he is punished severely by the cross-party inquiry into Partygate and forced to face a by-election in the months ahead.
He said: “Although the position for the Conservatives is improving, under current circumstances the Tories would lose a by-election in Uxbridge. There’s no question the party would face defeat to Labour.”
Meanwhile, another senior Tory, Caroline Nokes, said Mr Johnson’s attempt at a political comeback was “finished” after his torrid grilling by MPs at the televised inquiry hearing on Wednesday.
The former prime minister is struggling to revive his political career after the cross-party committee investigating his Partygate denials denounced them as “flimsy”.
In a short-tempered testimony lasting more than three hours, Mr Johnson insisted there was not a “shred of evidence” to show he lied to MPs and said it would have been “utterly insane” for him to have done so.
But senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin questioned why Mr Johnson failed to take “proper advice” on Covid guidance before claiming in parliament it had been followed “completely”.
And it emerged the then PM had been warned against making his infamous remarks in the Commons.
If a suspension of at least 10 days is voted through by MPs, a by-election in Mr Johnson’s seat could be triggered. But many Tory MPs believe the committee may stop short of a 10-day suspension – even though they expect him to be found guilty of “recklessly” misleading the Commons.
Mr Johnson’s ally Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed his old boss had “won” public support with his defences – despite them being met with exasperation by the cross-party panel.
He told Channel 4 News: “I think that if Boris Johnson went to a by-election he would win it comfortably. Because I think he’s winning in the court of public opinion, who see this as a kangaroo court.”
However, the latest YouGov poll shows 72 per cent of the public thinks Mr Johnson is dishonest (while only 13 per cent believe he is honest).
Mr Johnson also indicated he may refuse to accept the inquiry’s verdict if it finds him guilty of contempt of parliament by deliberately misleading the Commons – saying he would “wait to see”.
The remark was echoed by Conservative chair Greg Hands when asked if the committee was being fair to Mr Johnson. “We’ll have to wait and see,” he told Peston. “I think it’s impossible to judge that until we see the report.”
Offering his verdict on Wednesday’s hearing, Will Walden, Mr Johnson’s former communication chief, said: “He’ll be wanting to tell himself it’s all alright – but I don’t think it is, really. It was a bit of mess. He was churlish, frustrated, disbelieving, stroppy, shameless.”
Mr Walden added: “A man with an elastic relationship with the truth, swearing on a Bible to tell the truth about whether in the past he told the truth or not – I mean you literally couldn’t make it up.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who recused himself from leading the inquiry, said: “I got the impression [Mr Johnson] knows perfectly well the rules weren’t followed.”
“He’s always known the rules weren’t perfectly followed – and he’s always sort of tried to cover it up ... his mind is very, very muddled. I think he knows deep in his heart he’s got this wrong from the very beginning but he can’t own up to it.”
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Boris Johnson was pleased to give oral evidence to the Privileges Committee and will continue to help the Committee with its work.
“Mr Johnson did not knowingly or recklessly mislead parliament. He continues to campaign on issues that matter to him including Brexit, levelling up and Ukraine, as well as in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency where he has announced he is standing at the next general election.”