August 15, 2022

U.K. PM Boris Johnson Survives No-Confidence Vote But Faces Uphill Battle to Stay in Power

6 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived a vote of no confidence held by members of his own Conservative Party. On Monday, Conservatives voted 211 to 148 by secret ballot to allow Johnson to remain leader of the party. The vote came days after Johnson was booed when he arrived at a service to honor the queen’s 70-year reign. Johnson recently became the first British leader to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office, after a report by Scotland Yard found Johnson’s government held at least a dozen parties at the prime minister’s official residence during the first year of the pandemic, in violation of Johnson’s COVID lockdown orders. On Monday night, Johnson described the vote as good news for the U.K.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: So, well, I think this is a very good result for politics and for the country, just in —

REPORTER: You think it’s a good result?

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I do, just in this — so, I think it’s a convincing result, a decisive result. And what it means is that, as a government, we can move on and focus on the stuff I think really matters to people.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by professor Priya Gopal at the University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.
Professor Gopal, welcome back to Democracy Now! Good news for the empire? Can you talk about this no-confidence vote? If just 30 MPs had voted a different way, 30-some-odd MPs, he would have gone down.
PRIYA GOPAL: Yeah. Thank you. Nice to be back.
The significance of this vote is that it isn’t, in fact, good news for Johnson at all. It is pretty much the first time that the Conservative Party has in any way, even in this very divided way, held Johnson to account for, you know, what has been a very long record of being quite flexible with the truth and for breaking ministerial rules. I think that this reflects a mood shift among voters who handed Johnson a huge majority at the last elections. He’s gone from being seen as a kind of Teflon prime minister to someone who is now very vulnerable. And his prime ministership, I think it is widely agreed, is in some danger.
And this is quite remarkable given how much he has actually been able to withstand over his two-and-a-half years in office, from multiple charges of dishonesty and misleading the public; cronyism charges over COVID contracts to ministers and family of Tory — to friends and family of Tory ministers; proroguing Parliament, suspending Parliament; breaking manifesto promises over pensions, health and social care; to luxury refurbishments of his official residence; and, of course, let’s not forget, a staggeringly high COVID death toll, 179,000 at last count.
So, actually, for Johnson, this is really bad news, because this is the first time half — nearly half of his party has rapped him on the knuckles and has basically sent a warning shot across his bows that, you know, he is not safe anymore. So, he might try to bluster as usual and call it “good news,” but I think, for him, it’s very, very bad news.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Gopal, what’s your sense of the likelihood of new elections being called or Johnson being forced to resign?
PRIYA GOPAL: Well, I think that really depends. He is safe under current rules from a leadership challenge for at least one year. There is talk about changing the rules to allow for a challenge earlier, but that remains to be seen. I don’t think new elections are necessarily on the horizon.
But what is clear is that he has a large number of rebels in the Tory ranks. And this means that any legislation that he tries to put forward may not go through because of dissension from within the Tory party. And if it turns out that he isn’t able to function, isn’t able to put legislation through that he wants to put through, then he may be in a position where he is indeed forced to resign. So he isn’t quite a lame duck yet, but he is certainly in quite a lot of danger of not being able to do the things that he wants to do.
So, it remains to be seen how the next weeks and months progress. Certainly, prime ministers in similar positions — most recently, Theresa May — even when they have survived a confidence vote, with even fewer rebels, have not been able to survive very long. So he is not at all in a safe and happy position.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of things that he still hopes to accomplish, what about his ability now to resolve the situation regarding Ireland and the post-Brexit, the arrangements in terms of Ireland and both the U.K. and the European Union?
PRIYA GOPAL: Yeah, I think that element of Brexit is in trouble. Johnson’s line, Johnson’s line to his party and to the electorate, has been that he got Brexit done. But, in fact, Brexit is not done. We are now in a position where Britain is likely, if things go as he plans, to be in breach of the withdrawal agreement, putting the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Ireland in great danger. This is by no means resolved. The EU is not going to turn around and simply roll over if the United Kingdom withdraws, as Johnson is threatening to, unilaterally from the withdrawal agreement, reimposing a hard border, essentially, in Ireland.
So, what we are looking at is a mess. And that is the kindest thing that one can say about the situation in relation to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There is a really big problem on hand, and it is very far from resolved, and Brexit is very far from being done.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s particularly incredible seeing the prime minister at these parties at 10 Downing Street, when, let’s not forget, he almost died of COVID himself. But I wanted to end by asking you about the last days in Britain. I didn’t say “the last days of Britain,” but the last days in Britain, just coming off the Platinum Jubilee celebrations marking 70 years of the queen’s reign. We saw the images of Boris Johnson being booed as he came out for the celebration. But the significance of this 70th jubilee, Professor Gopal, as author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent?
PRIYA GOPAL: Well, I mean, the jubilee, you know, is a very interesting event, because Johnson was booed not by leftists, not by Labour voters, but he was booed by royalists who had gathered in force outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. And that was a very telling moment, because these are natural Conservative voters who had come out to celebrate the monarchy and was booing a Conservative prime minister.
But the jubilee itself is very telling. Here, we have huge public expenditure for four days. I mean, some figures suggest 28 million pounds spent for ritual genuflection to one of the world’s richest institutions, at a time when, let us not forget, Britain is in very deep economic trouble. We have inflation at 10%. We have enormous inequality. We have record numbers of children going hungry, record numbers of working families having to use food banks. We have, essentially, people having to choose between heating and eating. Energy prices are fantastically high. And this is a situation in which we have chosen to celebrate the wealthy and, essentially, chosen to celebrate rule by the wealthy, given, you know, huge public expenditure, I think. And, of course, around the empire, there was deep dishonesty in the celebrations. There was no reference to empire. There was no reference to the troubles and bloodshed that empire entailed at the very beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s rule. And the jubilee, I think, really says everything we need to know about present-day Britain: celebration of wealth and the wealthy while ordinary people are going without and suffering in very large numbers.
AMY GOODMAN: Priya Gopal, we thank you for being with us, English professor at University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.
Next up, we head to Uvalde, Texas, where funerals are continuing for the 19 fourth graders, then their two teachers, shot dead two weeks ago, as calls for investigations grow and journalists trying to cover the funerals are being blocked by bikers called in by the police. We’ll get an update from Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez and the San Antonio Express-News editor Nora Lopez, head of the NAHJ, National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Stay with us.