Boris Johnson’s road to resignation has never been clearer.
The prime minister, who already occupies shaky ground, will be investigated by a Commons committee over claims he misled Parliament about parties in Downing Street during lockdown.
MPs approved the Privileges Committee launching an inquiry once the police have finished their own investigation into the gatherings.
The government had tried to delay the vote, but made a U-turn following opposition from its own MPs.
Even Steve Baker, a man who is arguably at least in part responsible for Johnson’s ascension into power, says the PM should be long gone. “The gig’s up”, he told the House of Commons this week, saying Johnson’s “marvellous contrition… only lasted as long as it took to get out of the headmaster’s study”.
It is now rated as almost exactly 50/50 as to whether Boris Johnson will lead the Conservatives into the next general election, according to the latest betting odds.
The chance of the prime minister being replaced this year has also continued to rise in recent weeks and now stands at 34 per cent.
In order to avoid that, Johnson has five key hurdles to overcome.
The first is the possibility of future Partygate fines.
Johnson’s defence at being slapped with a ‘FPN’ by the Met has been to say that it did not occur to him that he was breaking the rules. But that wears wearily thin every time he is penalised.
According to insider sources, the PM is facing another three potential fines for lockdown breaches. Each one will suggest with increasing gusto that the PM not only broke his own rules, but knowingly broke the ministerial code too by lying to parliament about the events.
Sue Gray report
The release of the full Sue Gray report – expected shortly after the police investigation has concluded – should be cause for concern for Johnson.
The final report will add much-needed substance to what has been a very topline debate thus far.
Johnson has previously conceded that he would have to resign if the report suggested he deliberately misled Parliament by lying about the parties. Even if it stopped short of that, there could still be calls for his resignation. It would indicate, as his predecessor famously quipped, that either Johnson “had not read the rules, did not understand them, or didn’t think the rules applied to No 10”.
Commons committee findings
Of course, there was a time when the Sue Gray report was all Johnson had to worry about. Now, he has a Privileges Committee report to consider too.
An inquiry will now look into whether the prime minister knowingly misled the House when he claimed he was unaware of illegal events taking place in No 10. It will be able to call witnesses and demand evidence, including more than 300 photographs that have been handed over to police, as well as what evidence the prime minister relied on when he told MPs he had been assured that all rules were followed.
At the end of this it will decide whether MPs should vote to hold the prime minister in contempt of parliament, which should, realistically, be curtains for the PM.
As the committee’s members deliberate Johnson could be dealt two further blows by voters which could stir a revolt if the party feels like the PM no longer has the confidence of the public.
The first will come in May, when local elections take place across the country. Damning polling by Electoral Calculus and Find Out Now published last week appears to hint at the public mood towards the Tories as Mr Johnson’s party is tipped to haemorrhage more than 800 council seats.
The study by two firms suggested Labour would be the largest party in Parliament, 15 short of an overall majority, if the results were replicated at a general election. That will set alarm bells ringing for those in the party.
And those alarm bells will be impossible to ignore if Labour reclaims the Red Wall seat of Wakefield when the by-election takes place.
Tory MP Stephen Hammond has suggested that contest, now expected to take place in June, could be the final straw for Mr Johnson.
On the key test in red-wall territory, the former minister said: “If we don’t [win], there might be some thought about what we need to do to reassure those voters that came to us for the first time in 2019.”
According to Guardian analysis, voters in the city say it is time for political change after Ahmad Khan’s conviction, Partygate and recent Conservative policies which have swayed constituents to the left.
As Sir Keir Starmer once pointed out, these are seats that were borrowed to the Conservatives in 2019. Now Labour wants them back.