For decades, politics-watchers have speculated that Boris Johnson’s ramshackle appearance and oafish manner is all an act. That, underneath it all, he was actually a calculating political operator with a unique ability to charm the public and rise above scandal to cling to power. Over the past few weeks, that theory has been quite spectacularly obliterated.
His latest unprecedented humiliation came Thursday following a plot to get rid of him that was cooked up by his own lawmakers who were outraged over a string of revelations that he attended or hosted boozy parties while the rest of Britain was in lockdown—even Queen Elizabeth, who sat alone at her husband’s funeral hours after one Downing Street bash.
It looked like that plot had been seen off, at least for the time being. But then a member of the British prime minister’s Conservative Party went public with an extraordinary allegation—that Johnson’s government was blackmailing lawmakers in a potentially illegal attempt to stop them from joining rebels who were trying to oust Johnson from office.
The lawmaker, William Wragg, went so far as to encourage his colleagues to contact the police if they had been subjected to the alleged threats, which Wragg claimed included withholding government money for local projects and leaking damaging stories about rebels to the press.
“In recent days, a number of members of parliament have faced pressures and intimidation from members of the government because of their declared or assumed desire for a vote of confidence in the party leadership of the prime minister,” Wragg said in parliament on Thursday.
The senior lawmaker went on: “The intimidation of a member of parliament is a serious matter… Moreover, the reports of which I’m aware would seem to constitute blackmail. As such it would be my general advice to colleagues to report these matters to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police.”
The prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street said it was “not aware of any evidence” for the allegations, but added, “If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully.”
Johnson’s position has looked increasingly shaky as the Downing Street lockdown party allegations stacked up over the past few weeks.
To get rid of their leader, 54 lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservative Party have to submit letters of no confidence in the prime minister, who would then face a vote of confidence among all 359 Conservative members of parliament. However, the number of letters that have already been submitted is a closely guarded secret—a confidence vote would only be announced when the threshold of 54 has been passed.
The dramatic blackmail allegation followed a series of serious blows to Johnson on Wednesday, when one of his lawmakers defected to the opposition Labour Party, and former minister David Davis told the prime minister to his face during a session in parliament: “In the name of God, go!”
Johnson has refused to speculate on his future, telling people to wait for the publication of an official report on his government’s parties during the pandemic, which is set to be released sometime next week.