Under normal circumstances, this would mean that time was up for the Prime Minister and his tenure in office. But Johnson has thus far declined to resign from his post and, with no general election scheduled until 2024, his fate will ultimately be determined by his own Conservative members of parliament, the only people who can remove him from office prematurely.
The Conservative party’s polling doesn’t look too good either, though party sources think on balance Johnson is still more of an electoral asset than a problem. They are aware that this could change if Johnson is issued with another fine by police or more details emerge from the so-called “Partygate” scandal.
What this means in the medium-term is that Johnson simply has to plow on and avoid the various pitfalls directly in front of him — which his allies note he has managed to do so far and can continue to do so.
The first such pitfall arrives on Thursday, when members of parliament will be able to vote on a motion tabled by the opposition parties that would refer the Prime Minister to a parliamentary committee that would investigate his conduct.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor party, said: “We are urging Conservative MPs to do the right thing. To respect the sacrifices that their constituents made during the pandemic.”
Johnson, who has a sizeable parliamentary majority, is expected to survive the vote, but Labor sources are quietly briefing that the motion will be politically toxic for Johnson either way. If Conservative MPs vote against holding the inquiry, Labor will be able to go to their seats at the next election and point out that they voted to protect the Prime Minister from scrutiny.
And there will be another test just weeks down the road: Local elections take place across the country on May 5. While they won’t remove Johnson from office, the elections will be an opportunity for voters to send a message of fury straight to Downing Street.
While the Conservatives have suffered huge dips in multiple polls ahead of the elections, observers believe it would take a spectacular defeat for Johnson’s lawmakers to commit political regicide against Johnson. But it’s not out of the question — and those who have seriously considered removing the Prime Minister from office see the summer as the best time to get rid of him, as it would give a new leader enough time to settle into the job before the next general election.
After these elections, the pitfalls are slightly more difficult to predict. At any time, Johnson could be fined again for other gatherings held in Downing Street that broke his own government’s laws. And the final report by a senior civil service officer into the Partygate scandal could be so damning that Conservative poll numbers slump even further.
However, for the time being, Johnson remains in his job, unwilling to resign and no one is strong enough to force him out. It’s frustrating for those who want him gone, but the politics simply make it practically impossible to get rid of Johnson in the immediate future. Whether that is a good thing for Johnson and his party is a different question altogether – and there are Labor figures who think Johnson fighting the next general election would be preferable to a new, more credible alternative.