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Johnson wins leadership challenge in UK parliament

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LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a confidence vote on Monday, seeing off a challenge to his leadership brought by lawmakers within his Conservative Party.

Johnson won the vote 211 to 148, according to Graham Brady, chairman of the party committee that oversaw the ballot.

Johnson earlier defended his record on delivering Brexit, fighting the Covid pandemic and Britain’s hawkish support for Ukraine against Russia.

“This is not the moment for a leisurely and entirely unforced domestic political drama and months and months of vacillation from the UK,” he told Tory MPs, according to a senior party source.

Supporters could be heard cheering and thumping their tables in approval.

The source said Johnson had indicated tax cuts could be in the offing as Britain contends with its worst inflation crisis in generations.

“We have been through bumpy times before and I can rebuild trust,” the prime minister told his parliamentary rank and file, according to the source, adding: “The best is yet to come.”

But the scale of Tory disunity was exposed in a blistering resignation letter from Johnson’s “anti-corruption champion” John Penrose and another letter of protest from longtime ally Jesse Norman.

The prime minister’s rebuttals over “Partygate” were “grotesque”, Norman wrote, warning that the Tories risked losing the next general election, which is due by 2024.

Powers of escapology

Boris Johnson — once described as a “greased piglet” for his uncanny powers of political escapology — has had more than most in his career.

But with some 40 percent of Tory MPs refusing to back him, his authority has been severely weakened.

The vote topped a tumultuous nearly three years in power for Johnson, dominated by the implementation of Brexit and the response to the pandemic.

Few would have predicted such a direct challenge to his authority in December 2019, when he secured the biggest Tory parliamentary majority since the early 1980s heyday of Margaret Thatcher.

The landslide victory of 80 seats allowed him to unblock several years of political paralysis since the divisive 2016 Brexit vote, and take Britain out of the European Union just a month later.

The coronavirus pandemic derailed his domestic plans to tackle regional inequality. Johnson was even an early casualty, and had to be treated in hospital intensive care for Covid.

But his handling of the health crisis laid bare a chaotic governing style, which his embittered former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has likened to an out-of-control shopping trolley.

Critics accused Johnson of not taking the threat seriously enough in the early days, imposing lockdowns too late or lifting them too soon.

Normal checks and balances for procurement were thrown out of the window in the rush to respond: friends and associates of those in high places benefited from lucrative contracts. Money was wasted.

Johnson’s high-stakes gamble of an early move on vaccine development may have paid off.

But the failure at the heart of government to adhere to stringent pandemic rules that the rest of the country was expected to follow has left him fighting for his political life.

Months of revelations about the lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street — and an unprecedented police fine — eventually proved too much for some party colleagues.

Last week he faced boos from diehard royal fans outside a thanksgiving service for Queen Elizabeth II.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2022

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