Boris Johnson will survive parties crisis to fight next election, minister claims
A cabinet minister has insisted that Boris Johnson will survive his Partygate crisis to fight and win the next general election as Conservative leader.
Brandon Lewis’s comment came amid growing pressure on the prime minister from Tory MPs to quit if he is fined by police over parties in Downing Street, with ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith saying it would be “very tough” for him to stay on.
Mr Johnson will this week attempt to give his premiership a fresh start with a tour of the UK designed to dispel the impression that he is leading a narrow clique obsessed with power struggles in Westminster.
His new No 10 chief of staff, Stephen Barclay, today promised the government will “take a step back from people’s lives” as it seeks to “restore a smaller state” in the wake of the pandemic.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Barclay said: “It’s time to return to a more enabling approach. To trust the people, return power to communities and free up business to deliver.”
Speaking to Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Mr Lewis denied that the prime minister had been distracted by the police investigation into Downing Street parties from crucial issues like the cost-of-living crisis, Covid and Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The Northern Ireland secretary insisted: “He is absolutely focused on the job in hand, on what he is doing for the British people.”
Mr Johnson is understood to be consulting lawyers as he fills out a legal questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police asking him to give credible explanations for his presence at up to six gatherings or face a fine.
A Savanta ComRes poll for The Independent found that 75 per cent of voters think that if the PM is fined he should resign, compared to just 16 per cent who said he should stay.
And Mr Duncan Smith said: “I think it would be very tough for anyone to remain after that – if you’ve set the laws, and you break them and the police decide you have broken them.”
Meanwhile, Tory MPs are eyeing Labour’s lead in the polls with increasing concern as they weigh up whether Mr Johnson will be an asset or a liability for them in upcoming local elections in May.
But Mr Lewis said: “He has my absolute 100 per cent-plus loyalty. I think this is a prime minister who is doing the right thing for our country. He’s got the big decisions right.
“I think he will fight and he will win the next general election.”
Mr Johnson is understood to have ditched plans for an overseas visit during the coming week’s parliamentary recess, in order to be on hand to lead the UK response if Russia invades Ukraine.
Instead, he will visit factory workers and scientific researchers in Scotland, and meet health staff at a North-West cancer centre tackling the backlog of treatment after the pandemic.
Ahead of the trip, the prime minister said: “I’m getting out of London this week and taking a simple message with me – this government is getting on with the job of uniting and levelling up the country.
“Access to good healthcare, a good education, skilled work, reliable transport – none of this should depend on where you live. We’re changing the rules of the game to put fairness back at the heart of the system and focusing on the priorities that really matter to people. This is our mission and we’re getting on with delivering it.”