Six possible outcomes of Downing Street ‘partygate’ scandal on Boris Johnson’s premiership

Boris Johnson stood at a crossroads on Wednesday night after he was forced to apologise to the country for his attendance at a Downing Street garden party.

As Tory MPs began to send in their letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, Westminster speculated on what could happen next for the Prime Minister.

Will Sue Gray’s inquiry into the Number 10 gatherings exonerate him? Will his backbenchers support him? And will he see out the year?

Here are six scenarios that could come next.

Boris Johnson is replaced

Sue Gray’s investigation concludes that gatherings in Downing Street should not have taken place and that Boris Johnson knew they were happening at the time. The Metropolitan Police launches a criminal investigation, using Ms Gray’s evidence from civil servants to prosecute staff who broke the rules.

The incident sends the Conservatives’ polling performance into terminal decline, prompting the critical mass of 54 MPs to send their letters of no confidence to Sir Graham. Mr Johnson does not make it onto the final ballot and is replaced as Prime Minister by the summer.

Prime Minister clings on – just

Boris Johnson is slapped on the wrist by Sue Gray’s inquiry, which concludes that he should have done more to ensure that his staff followed the lockdown rules. The Metropolitan Police sticks to its line that officers do not investigate historic allegations of Covid regulation breaches.

The Prime Minister uses up the last of his nine lives with Tory backbenchers, who are already angry about policy U-turns, a rise in National Insurance and the effect of the cost of living crisis on their constituents. 

:question:Can Boris Johnson survive Partygate?

Listen back to our Twitter Spaces with @Tony_Diver, @OliviaUtley, @mutazamd and @djknowles22 here :point_down:https://t.co/i3p7ycjZHZ

— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) January 12, 2022

The upcoming Levelling Up White Paper convinces MPs Mr Johnson can win again in 2024.

Mr Johnson muddles through

The Prime Minister followed the coronavirus rules, Sue Gray’s inquiry says, and any breaches by his staff were not his responsibility. Several staff are sacked from Downing Street and Mr Johnson reshuffles his officials to reassure Tory backbenchers that his administration has learnt from its mistakes.

Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson's principal private secretary, is said to be one of those who could be forced out by the scandal

Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The incident has no long-lasting effect on the Tories’ polling figures and, despite a small setback in London in the May local elections, the gatherings are dismissed as a piece of political history. No more information is leaked to the press, and the number of letters sent to Sir Graham Brady remains well below 54.

Mr Johnson becomes invincible

A rushed attempt to force Boris Johnson from office takes potential leadership challengers by surprise – and neither Rishi Sunak nor Liz Truss have time to run a full campaign to convince Tory MPs they are fit to replace him.

The Sue Gray inquiry reports during the leadership race, but exonerates Mr Johnson and calls into question the decision to replace him. Ms Truss, who is most popular with Tory members, does not make it to the final ballot, and the Prime Minister is re-elected as Conservative leader. 

Who should be the next leader of the Conservative party after Boris Johnson?

Mr Johnson also wins a grace period of a year, during which he recovers his party’s position in the polls, putting him on a strong footing for the next election.

Mr Johnson and Douglas Ross part ways

The calls for Boris Johnson to stand down are largely confined to Scotland, where Douglas Ross leads the criticism of the Prime Minister. It becomes untenable for Mr Ross and Mr Johnson to exist as leaders of the same party in different countries. The former’s criticism of the UK Government makes him unpalatable to senior Tories in England, while Scottish voters are unconvinced at the ballot box by a party that is clearly divided.

Unionists are concerned that Mr Johnson’s unpopularity north of the border makes their fight against the SNP more difficult, and break away from the Conservatives to form a separate party in Scotland. They form a pact after the 2024 election.

Mr Johnson bites the bullet – and resigns

Concerned that the “partygate” scandal could damage the long-term success of his party, Mr Johnson is convinced by the “men in grey suits” on his back benches that the time has come to resign. He does not wait for the conclusion of the Gray inquiry, allowing his successor to dismiss its findings as irrelevant to a new administration.

A protracted Conservative leadership election follows, during which the UK’s recovery from Covid and the cost of living crisis are the main issues that candidates address. The gatherings in Downing Street are associated with Mr Johnson’s premiership and do not damage the Tories at the next election.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *