Boris Johnson has had a surprisingly positive 24 hours since receiving a police fine. While not exactly positive, today's front pages are far from a nightmare selection. A number of Tory-leaning papers call for a sense of perspective with the Daily Mail asking of the PM’s critics ‘don't they know there's a war on?’.
On hearing the news that Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had each received a fixed penalty notice, most Tory MPs came out to defend rather than attack the Prime Minister (see The Spectator’s updated list here). Notably, Roger Gale who had previously put in a no-confidence letter said that now was not the time to oust a Prime Minister and that he backed Johnson.
The vast majority of cabinet ministers have publicly backed Johnson too – with a high number managing to shoehorn in the phrase ‘just getting on with the job’. Crucially, the Prime Minister has managed to hold on to his Chancellor. It was notable that Sunak stayed quiet until 8 p.m. on Wednesday night – the silence fuelled talk that he was considering his position. Had the Chancellor resigned, it would have put pressure on Johnson to do the same – and led to nerves among Tory MPs that the current position is unsustainable.
So, what happens next? In Downing Street, aides take the view that Johnson will be able to ride this out. It helps that the fine relates to a birthday cake during work hours as opposed to some of the more colourful lockdown breaches, which involve partying and late-night drinking. But this is also one of the reasons Johnson is not yet out of the woods. The Met Police are still investigating and given Sunak managed to receive a fine for turning up early to a meeting, it suggests that other events that Johnson is alleged to have been at could result in separate fines.
That means the whole saga may well run on further – and only when it ends will Sue Gray finally release her report, expected to be highly critical of the Prime Minister. As one senior Tory puts it: ‘The Prime Minister is in a much better place than he was eight weeks ago to survive a fine but there are still plenty of colleagues who are uncomfortable about it.’
Those colleagues are beginning to make their voices heard – Nigel Mills, the Tory MP for Amber Valley, has given an interview to his local radio station where he has said he no longer believes Mr Johnson's position as Prime Minister is ‘tenable’. Other MPs are considering their next steps – for many, a fixed penalty notice was viewed as a red line. Right now, Johnson appears to have the support of enough Tory MPs to survive this – but more fines, constituent complaints and a bad local election showing could still change the equation.