(CN) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely survived a vote of no confidence within his Conservative Party on Monday night, leaving him badly damaged after months of scandals over parties at Downing Street in violation of pandemic lockdown rules.
The vote saw 211 Tory members of Parliament back Johnson and 148 casting votes against him, giving him a slim majority of 63. It’s enough to ensure he can stay on in office, but he now faces a growing rebellion. Historically, prime ministers who receive so few votes of confidence have ended up ousted.
But his premiership has been rocked in recent months by revelations that Downing Street staff held numerous parties in violation of lockdown rules. Johnson attended some of the events and photographs have appeared showing him drinking at the parties.
Brits have been deeply offended by Johnson’s behavior and he’s plummeted in polls and now trails Labour leader Keir Starmer.
The vote was a surprise to many and defied widespread speculation that Johnson would receive much more support. But with about 41% of Tories voting against him, his government will face numerous difficulties and the prospect of not being able to get legislation through Parliament.
After the vote, Johnson remained defiant and called the vote a victory. He’d vowed to stay on as prime minister as long as he won a majority.
“I think it’s a convincing result, a decisive result,” he said. “What it means is that, as a government, we can move on and focus on the stuff that really matters to people.”
But the rebels within his party are growing more vociferous. Roger Gale, a Conservative lawmaker and Johnson critic, told the BBC that the vote was “severely damaging.”
“I think the prime minister has to go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he goes from here,” Gale said.
The level of support for Johnson was less than that given to past Conservative prime ministers whose hold on Downing Street eroded following similar leadership challenges. Such was the case for Margaret Thatcher in 1990, John Major in 1995 and Theresa May in 2018.
“I don’t believe that he should take the party into the next general election,” Gale said, speaking on Sky News television. “There are a lot of hurdles ahead and I think a prime minister of honor would look at the figures, accept the fact that he has lost the support of a significant proportion of his party and consider his position, but I don’t think he’ll do that.”
Johnson came into office as one of Britain’s most divisive politicians with a history of controversy and a checkered past. He's faced legal troubles over his spending practices, his professional conduct and allegations that he misled British voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum by misusing statistics that persuaded people to vote to leave the EU. In that campaign, he also used posters that were flat-out lies about how Turkey was joining the EU, and poised to flood Britain with immigrants.
Johnson rose to worldwide fame when he became the mayor of London in 2008. At the time, he was viewed as a socially liberal, eco-friendly and more gentle Conservative politician. He cut a comedic, bumbling and likable persona. He promoted cycling and gay marriage and was on friendly terms with then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
After leaving the mayor's office his focus shifted even more keenly on Downing Street. He ran and won a seat in Parliament for a second time in 2015.
He arrived back in the House of Commons, where he had sat as a member prior to becoming mayor, at a crucial moment: His Tory party had called for a referendum to take place in June 2016 in which voters could choose to either remain in the EU or leave.
Johnson then helped lead the campaign to leave the EU and was unexpectedly on the side of the winners, putting him in prime position to become a leading candidate for prime minister.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.