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DEREK HEALEY: Is the party finally over for Boris Johnson?

Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson.

Is this the end for Boris Johnson?

It’s a question many have asked themselves more than once over the past year.

For almost any other prime minister, the resignation of a chancellor and a health secretary within minutes of each other would be a fatal blow.

Those two departures add to a growing list of vacancies for Mr Johnson that now includes a party chairman, vice chairman, independent ethics advisor, trade envoy to Morocco, and several parliamentary private secretaries.

A number of other key figures in his orbit appear to have misplaced their phones for the time being so there is no way of knowing just how long that list could grow before the dust has settled.

What was the final straw?

In the end, it wasn’t the 20,000 avoidable deaths experts attributed to the decision to delay locking down the country in the early days of the pandemic that proved too much for those handing in their letters.

It wasn’t the choice to prioritise hospitals instead of care homes, failing to procure enough PPE – or even the huge profits made by the firm with ties to a Tory peer that was eventually contracted to provide it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and wife Carrie Johnson.

It wasn’t the pricey refurbishment of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat initially paid for with a “bridging loan” by a Conservative donor.

It wasn’t Mr Johnson’s free use of a Spanish villa owned by the family of Tory minister Lord Zac Goldsmith or his Caribbean holiday paid for by Carphone Warehouse boss David Ross.

It wasn’t 16 of the main Conservative treasurers – all apart from the most recent – being offered peerages in the House of Lords after donating millions to the party.

Owen Paterson.

It wasn’t former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson being forced to quit after lobbying on behalf of two companies that paid him more than £100,000 a year – and it wasn’t Boris Johnson trying to tear up the rule book to try to protect him.

It wasn’t even the partygate scandal, where the prime minister allowed a culture of excessive drinking to sweep through Downing Street while the rest of the country was in lockdown and forced to go without seeing their loved ones.

Government ‘not competent’

Instead, it was the row over whether Mr Johnson knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against senior Tory Chris Pincher when he appointed him as the party’s deputy chief whip.

The government’s position appeared to shift by the hour until finally it emerged the prime minister had in fact been aware as far back as 2019.

Sajid Javid.

But that was only after a number of government ministers were trotted out in front of the nation’s media to debase themselves by parroting the party line.

Health Secretary Savid Javid – whose resignation letter made for an unexpected present on the NHS’s 74th birthday – was eviscerating in his criticism.

He said the British people “expect integrity from their government” but voters now believe Mr Johnson’s administration is neither competent nor “acting in the national interest”.

What could come next?

The prime minister’s authority has already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support.

It is clear Mr Johnson will hold onto power at all costs.

But even if he survives the week, backbenchers are plotting to reform the rules so he can be forced to face another ballot.

Some have suggested that vote could come before the summer recess in a few weeks time or when Parliament returns in September.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were both fined.

Who knows what kind of government could be in place by then.

The loss of crunch by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield last month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar compared this latest round of resignations to rats leaving a sinking ship.

It remains to be seen whether the captain of that ship now plans to step aside or take the Conservative Party crashing down into the waves with him.

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