Prime Minister Boris Johnson lives to be berated another day

The PM is well away from Westminster while MPs debate whether he should be investigated for misleading the House over his breach of Covid rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lives to be berated another day Andrew Parsons via No10 Downing St

After a week of repeated kickings on Partygate, the Prime Minister now has some respite in the form of a trade mission to India.

On Thursday, he is well away from Westminster when MPs debate whether he should be investigated for misleading the House over his breach of Covid rules.

In the late afternoon, the Commons agreed to a probe of his conduct.

He has cut a diminished figure this week. Sorry, normally the hardest word to utter in politics, has become his mantra. It has been delivered in deflated tones as he realises that there is nothing he can say or do to demonstrate contrition. Apart, that is, from resigning.

His cabinet colleagues have listened to him with faces that redefine glum. Backbenchers bailed out of the Commons chamber, unable to squirm much longer.

Even Sir Keir Starmer, an overly measured lawyer pathologically incapable of playing the man, hissed his contempt, knowing that his embrace of exchange by flick knife couldn’t adequately convey how many of the bereaved feel about the Prime Minister.

With the prospect of more fines, partygate becoming yet more protracted and the eventual publication of Sue Gray’s report into Whitehall all intensifying pressure, many Tory MPs wobbled on unqualified support for Johnson.

At the start of the day, Government and opposition could not agree on a way forward. In a sense the gulf between Government and opposition on the next step is irrelevant.

Posturing is the bedrock of parliamentary tactics born of political self-interest. The only issue to take from Thursday’s exchanges is that the issue is not going away.

Indeed, if the Gray report is as bad as many expect it to be, it will merely intensify the pressure on the Government just as the cost of living crisis really kicks in. They will have insufficient firefighters to douse the flames raging on so many fronts.

And then, of course, there are the local election results, expected to be bad for the Conservatives. A combination of a drubbing at the polls, a voter backlash over a throttling of living standards and a report into lockdown breaches mean that this will re-emerge and probably with greater intensity.

Ukraine has bought the Prime Minister breathing space and held in check the instinct of some to move against him. For all of that, Tory MPs have to come back to a basic question, is he the right leader for the next election?

With characteristic chutzpah, the Prime Minister told journalists on the plane to India that he will lead the Tories into the next election. He couldn’t foresee circumstances that would force his resignation. When you create your own reality anything, of course, is possible.

Back in the real world, his troops will have a greater grip on reality for they will have spent some time on the doorstep of voters and will know exactly how they feel.

Ukraine one week, India the next, a Prime Minister striding the world stage doing what Prime Ministers do. It is all very welcome for it is a world away from parties in Whitehall.

In the grand scheme of things his breach of Covid rules are at the low end of the scale of criminality but it’s the context that is toxic and he can’t escape from that rather sobering reality.

For now he lives to fight another day and when he returns from India he will live to be berated another day on an issue that he simply cannot close down.

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