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Johnson bets on a ‘lifeless cat’ technique to get him out of hassle

Boris Johnson regarded strained as he entered the Home of Commons at noon on Wednesday, hoping {that a} “lifeless cat” and an apology over Downing Avenue events would dig him out of his newest political gap. The backdrop of sullen Tory faces was an indication that he had a lot work to do.

The primary a part of the prime minister’s escape plan — the tactic of placing the equal of an inanimate feline on the desk to alter the topic — was the instant activation of his so-called Plan B coronavirus restrictions to curb the unfold of the brand new Omicron variant.

The truth that many Conservative MPs are against recent restrictions in England — particularly Covid-19 vaccine passports — and that Johnson has desperately tried to keep away from them was a sign that the technique was high-risk.

The transfer got here as a shock to ministers, not least as a result of Downing Avenue has repeatedly insisted it might not have sufficient proof concerning the Omicron variant till subsequent week to determine if new restrictions had been wanted.

“We don’t suppose Plan B is required,” Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister, stated on Tuesday. Johnson’s allies stated on Sunday they didn’t anticipate new restrictions till January. Cupboard Workplace papers on choices weren’t prepared.

Rishi Sunak, chancellor, was stated by authorities officers to have been taken abruptly by Johnson’s newest transfer and pushed again in opposition to some restrictions, in line with Whitehall insiders.

“It was pushed by Quantity 10,” stated one. Ultimately, cupboard and Tory parliamentary resistance meant that new restrictions remained on the average finish of the dimensions of choices.

One Conservative MP, William Wragg, informed Johnson within the Commons: “Only a few will probably be satisfied by this diversionary tactic.”

Johnson denied that cost categorically. “It’s a must to act to guard public well being when you’ve gotten clear proof,” he stated. However many Tory MPs and officers are sceptical concerning the timing.

That can add to tensions when the Commons is requested to vote on new Covid rules. “He’s going to depend on Labour votes to get it by means of,” stated one Tory MP.

Final month 19 Conservative MPs voted in opposition to new rules on mask-wearing. Whereas some stated they might settle for “steerage” to work from home, they might not again vaccine passports.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale stated Downing Avenue had squandered the flexibility to name on the goodwill of the general public with any new Covid restrictions. “If that’s undermined by means of reviews of hypocrisy and rule-breaking from these on the prime of presidency, that’s harmful by way of our public well being technique,” he added.

The second a part of Johnson’s technique — urged upon him by former Tory chief Iain Duncan Smith at a gathering on Wednesday — was to apologise for the upset prompted to the general public by the livid row about Christmas events in Downing Avenue.

Johnson obliged, saying he was “sickened” by a video leaked to ITV Information displaying his aides joking a few occasion in Quantity 10 throughout lockdown in December final 12 months, however his apology additionally gave the impression to be an try and shift blame to officers.

“I used to be additionally livid to see that clip,” Johnson informed MPs. “I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has prompted up and down the nation, and I apologise for the impression that it offers.”

He had been “repeatedly assured” no Covid guidelines had been damaged however now — belatedly — he had determined to ask cupboard secretary Simon Case to search out out what occurred. If discovered responsible “there will probably be disciplinary motion for all these concerned”, he stated.

Johnson’s resolution to ask Case to research solely the occasion held in Downing Avenue on December 18 final 12 months, whereas London was underneath stringent Covid restrictions and indoor social gatherings had been banned, left many questioning why the cupboard secretary was not wanting into different such occasions.

One Quantity 10 official who attended the occasion stated: “It was big, there should have been 40 to 50 folks. It was actually dangerous. There was cheese and wine ordered in by Quantity 10 workers. There was music.” Downing Avenue stated Johnson had been engaged on the night of the occasion.

However the official stated they’d additionally been current throughout a leaving occasion in Downing Avenue for former aide Cleo Watson on November 27, by which Johnson had given a speech. At the moment folks from totally different households had been banned from assembly indoors or in non-public gardens.

Neither is Case being requested to look into allegations that events befell in Johnson’s Downing Avenue flat, together with one occasion on November 13, supposedly a celebration to mark the departure from Quantity 10 of the prime minister’s abrasive former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

The debacle of the previous week has weakened Johnson’s standing inside the Conservative occasion, which MPs stated reached new lows on Wednesday, coming shortly after his mishandling of the Owen Paterson sleaze scandal.

One longstanding Tory stated: “One thing has snapped. Belief evaporated after the Paterson saga however now I believe we’re into actual hazard territory. MPs are getting severely fed up.” 

One other Conservative MP stated colleagues might begin placing in letters of no confidence in Johnson if extra particulars emerged about events in Quantity 10. “If the prime minister has misled us on what he knew concerning the events and what he attended, then the letters will begin flying in,” added the MP.

Ministers admitted that conversations, for the primary time, have began turning to what the end-game for Johnson would possibly appear like.

Johnson has not but reached a tipping level, the place many MPs consider he has turn into a legal responsibility. However they fret concerning the North Shropshire by-election on December 16, the place the Conservatives are combating the Liberal Democrats following Paterson’s resignation.

One longstanding ally of Johnson described the state of affairs at Westminster as “finely balanced”, including the prime minister was “down a few cat lives in final month” and couldn’t “afford many extra of those errors”.

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