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Boris Johnson’s premiership was hanging by a thread last month after several senior aides walked out and more than a dozen of his own MPs publicly called on the UK prime minister to resign.
But now, his leadership appears to be back on track as the attention of his rebellious backbenchers turns away from reports of lawbreaking parties in Downing Street and towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The latest sign of that came on Friday, when David Davis — a Tory former cabinet minister who two months ago in the House of Commons told the premier “in the name of God, go” — said now is not the time to talk about ousting him.
“We may return to it, but right now the issue that matters most is Ukraine,” Davis told the Evening Standard newspaper.
Davis isn’t alone in changing tack. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, another Johnson critic, also said this week he has withdrawn his letter of no confidence in the premier. It would be an “indulgence to have a vote of no confidence at the time of an international emergency,” he told a Daily Telegraph event on Wednesday.
And later on Friday, Johnson is due to address a conference of the Scottish Conservatives whose leader, Douglas Ross, had repeatedly called for him to quit over the so-called Partygate scandal. Last week, he too withdrew his letter of no confidence, citing the Ukraine war.
To be sure, the danger is not over for Johnson. The Metropolitan Police are still investigating the alleged gatherings, and he could be found to have broken the lockdown laws that his own government brought in.
If 54 Conservative MPs, or 15% of the total, submit letters to the influential 1922 committee, it will trigger a no-confidence vote in the premier.
But with the war in Ukraine showing little sign of abating, the appetite in the party for a change in leadership is waning. As time goes on, a leadership challenge looks even less likely, because a general election is due to be held in 2024 at the latest, and next year is seen as a key campaigning year.
Bloomberg. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.