Katy Balls

Will Boris Johnson’s big week be undone by partygate?

Will Boris Johnson's big week be undone by partygate?
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When Boris Johnson gave an interview on Sunday to the BBC's Sophie Raworth, he was not keen to talk about partygate – refusing to do so 17 times – but he did want to make hay with his plan to end all legally-binding Covid restrictions in the coming days. At the end of the interview, the Prime Minister said that while the pandemic was not over, it was time for the nation to 'get back to work'.

As MPs return to Westminster after a week's break, Johnson and his team hope to rally MPs behind them with the government's plan for living with Covid. After meeting with his Cabinet today to sign off the final details, Johnson will address the Commons before speaking to the nation in a Covid press conference. However, while this will mark an end to many legal restrictions – such as self-isolation – heavy guidance will be brought in encouraging people to still stay home if they test positive for Covid. There is also talk that passenger locator forms will still be required for travel abroad while access to free testing will become more limited over time.

Labour have been quick to attack the Tories for going too fast on lifting the rules, but this is a policy that will, broadly speaking, land well with Tory MPs. It comes as Johnson has also taken on an increasingly active role on the unfolding crisis in Ukraine: the UK wants to be a key player when it comes to organising a united response from the West. Johnson is far more keen to talk tough on Ukraine than address his domestic problems of the past few months. It's also winning him plaudits with his own party, with several MPs and ministers sharing his speech to the Munich security conference over the weekend online.

But there is only so much progress Johnson can make with his grand reset while the police investigation into parties hangs over his head. On Friday, Johnson submitted his answers to the police questionnaire on partygate – doing so through a private lawyer and outside of Downing Street. It means news of whether the Prime Minister has received a fixed penalty notice could come within days. 

Once that investigation has been concluded, Johnson is under pressure to publish the full Sue Gray report. Some ministers – such as James Cleverly – have been out on the airwaves saying Johnson should stay in place come what May. However, both the investigation and the report have the potential to trigger more letters depending on their outcomes. The hope among Team Johnson is that he has used the time since the partygate allegations first emerged to win over many MPs and show that he is not only changing but has the support of large chunks of his party. That way they hope they can show that even if the 54 letters are found to trigger a vote of confidence, there are not the votes to win it and oust Johnson – therefore putting off Tory rebels from triggering one in the first place.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

Topics in this articlePolitics