Insight

Five reasons why the coming week will be critical for Boris Johnson

The PM's make or break week. Credit: PA

Despite the denials - of parties, rule-breaking, blackmail and bullying - not even the prime minister can deny the perilous position in which he finds himself. Hunkered down at his Chequers country retreat, Boris Johnson spent the weekend on the offensive, reportedly calling wavering Conservative colleagues, fighting for his political life.

The threat of a no confidence vote

A handful of Tory MPs have already made up their mind, handing in their letters of no confidence, beyond the hitherto powers of persuasion and charm that have served Mr Johnson so well for so long. The majority, though, have signaled they will wait for Sue Gray's report, expected this week, into all those alleged parties in Downing Street, before deciding the prime minister's fate. His future is in their hands.

There will be no resignation, it seems. Many in Number 10 may fall on their swords in the coming days, but Boris Johnson is determined not to be one of them. So from Chequers, he rings the ranks of the perceived persuadables. Desperate though he is to avoid a deeply damaging and humiliating confidence vote - which just 54 Tories can trigger with the stroke of a pen - many in government now see such a vote as inevitable.

An unpredictable showdown

The weekend was likely to be less about stopping backbenchers sending in letters to 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady, but about shoring up support for the showdown that will follow, when every Conservative MP gets a vote on whether Boris Johnson should stay or go. "He will win by a mile," one cabinet minister and Johnson-loyalist tells me.

"This won't be Theresa May territory where she won by 80 votes. He'll get 300 [of the 359] votes. Colleagues will think: 'What have we done?'" "Pathetic" was the reply when I put that prediction to one of Mr Johnson's opponents who has already submitted their letter.

Sue Gray's findings

But the big unknown is what Sue Gray will say. A highly critical report, with a 'smoking gun' that proves Johnson lied to Parliament, and it could go downhill very fast for Johnson. Attention will turn to the responses of leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, as well as the backbenches. If Sue Gray's report falls short of finding he lied, leaving the PM wounded but with wriggle room to limp on, he may well survive a vote of confidence.

Yet, as Theresa May ultimately discovered, simply winning is not enough. The only way Boris Johnson realistically survives in the short-term, at least, is with the kind of aforementioned margin of victory being talked-up by his allies. That may not be enough either. Conservative MPs point to Ms May's local election results as a key moment, the first real test of public opinion. A mauling at the ballot box could leave Boris Johnson with no choice but to go (it is worth noting here that the 1922 Committee are this week voting on a new rule to cut the minimum time between confidence votes from 12 to 6 months, meaning Johnson could face another vote by summer).

William Wragg's meeting with the Met

William Wragg is due to speak to police about his concerns Credit: Parliament TV/PA

To add to Boris Johnson's long-list of massive problems, the Metropolitan Police will this week meet with Conservative MP William Wragg to discuss his claims his colleagues have been blackmailed into supporting the PM, with the threat of public funds being withdrawn from their constituencies.

Nusrat Ghani's Islamophobia claim

Then there are the damaging claims by former Conservative minister Nusrat Ghani. Sacked from government in February 2020, she alleges the chief whip Mark Spencer said "Muslimness" was seen an issue in Downing Street and her status as a "Muslim woman minister" was making colleagues uncomfortable. He strenuously denies the claims, while Downing Street says Boris Johnson met with Ms Ghani and invited her to make a formal complaint. Yet it hasn't stopped his own cabinet ministers, Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi, publicly calling for a "proper" investigation and for their friend to "be heard."

Following the rallying of support, on Monday morning the PM announced he had ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into Ms Ghani's Islamophobia claims - a move that the MP said she welcomed.

MP Nusrat Ghani

Ms Ghani also claims Boris Johnson himself said he couldn't get involved and failed to hold an independent investigation into her allegations. She has crucially received public support from a number of Conservative backbenchers at at moment when Boris Johnson needs as many of them on-side as possible. Westminster holds it's breath. Sue Gray could deliver her report to the prime minister as early as Tuesday, with the public version made available hours after. He is then expected to give a statement to Parliament, where he'll get a visceral sense of how bad the damage is, and whether he can really hang on.