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Boris Johnson’s wish to pick fights with his old enemies risks making the UK a pariah

‘No way out’: Commentator predicts Boris Johnson’s future 02:10

London (CNN)UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have spent much of this week fighting with the EU and rowing with a European human rights court, all while playing down accusations that they are breaking international law and pandering to his party’s base.

On Monday, Johnson’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, revealed the long-awaited Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a piece of legislation that, if passed, would allow the British government to unilaterally override parts of the Brexit deal it agreed with the EU in 2019.
Two days later, the EU responded by launching legal proceedings against the UK over its failure to implement parts of the protocol to date, while Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president, said that “there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement … let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal.”
UK government officials responded angrily by insisting that the bill, if passed, would be perfectly legal. Suella Braverman, the attorney general who gave the new bill a green light, went on television to defend the proposed legislation. In doing so, she accused the BBC of painting the EU as “the good guys” and told ITV’s political editor that his assertion the bill would break that law was “Remaniac make-believe.”
On Tuesday, the Johnson government found itself cursing the name of another European institution, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after it was forced to abandon a flight that would transport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The UK announced a deal in April under which asylum seekers in the country could be relocated and granted asylum in Rwanda. The UN’s human rights agency had previously warned the UK that the policy might be unlawful, as it could expose those refugees to human rights abuses in Rwanda.
Demonstrators protest outside of an airport perimeter fence against a planned deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda, at Gatwick Airport near Crawley, Britain, June 12, 2022.

The scheme had been widely criticized by human rights organizations, which succeeded in numerous legal challenges against individual removals but failed in their bid for an injunction suspending the flight. However, when the ECHR intervened on Tuesday night, saying that the last asylum seekers due to be on board had not exhausted their legal options in the UK, the plane was grounded.
Again, government ministers responded by insisting that the plan was lawful. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has since suggested that the UK will introduce its own Bill of Rights that could effectively allow it to ignore the ECHR.
Johnson’s willingness to have public spats with large, international institutions makes sense when you look at recent history. Both Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, picked fights with the judiciary and the EU during the most frustrating days of Brexit. This, so the theory goes among Conservatives, gave both leaders a boost among their core supporters for attacking elitist bodies that were blocking the will of the people.
“Historically, Boris has done well hitting out at big institutions like the EU and courts,” says a former government minister told CNN. “These were not artificial fights, both Rwanda and Northern Ireland are proper government policy. But the hardline way we’ve defended them suggests to me that Boris sees a silver lining,” they added.
In one sense, this logic makes sense. Johnson has been hit by scandal after scandal and has seen his personal approval ratings tank, along with national polling for his Conservative Party.
He has had to fight off a vote among his own party to remove him as leader and on Thursday night saw his own ethics adviser Christopher Geidt resigned, saying that Johnson’s government had put him in an “impossible and odious position.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he takes questions at the House of Commons in London, Britain June 15, 2022.

So, a fight with the lofty elites in Brussels and Strasbourg over real red-meat Conservative issues like Brexit and immigration could be just what Johnson needs to get things back on track.
However, every time a government becomes so fixated on domestic policy, it risks forgetting that allies and enemies around the world are paying attention.
CNN spoke to multiple Western diplomatic sources who said that Johnson’s government had cast a dark shadow over their perception of the UK. One senior Western official who has worked closely with the UK during the Ukraine crisis said that while allies still coordinated with the UK, the sense of concern that they don’t know what version of Johnson they will get has become normalized.
“He is not Donald Trump, but he is so unpredictable that it’s easy for allies to think of him as being like Donald Trump,” said a Western diplomat.
A European diplomat told CNN that “it’s hard to overstate just how much damage has been done. Trust has been hugely damaged.” They pointed to the issue over Northern Ireland, saying that “on our side, we know that there are solutions to the protocol. But those solutions rely on trust. Why should we trust him not to tear up any new agreement in the future?”
Western officials say, with some sadness, that there were moments in the immediate aftermath of Russia invading Ukraine where they thought Johnson might start behaving like a “stable and predictable” leader, as the Western diplomat put it.
A European official agreed, saying that “there were moments when we looked at the UK with some admiration and thought there might be some path forward. Ukraine was something bigger than our squabbles.”
However, the official continued that this feeling of optimism faded quickly, after Johnson compared the Ukrainian fight for freedom to Brexit.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the National Service of Thanksgiving held at St Paul's Cathedral as part of celebrations marking the Platinum Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, in London, Friday, June 3, 2022.

Conservatives in Westminster have mixed views on how bad this all is. Some worry that Johnson’s continued scandals and rhetoric are making the UK a pariah. Worse, they fear that a country like the UK — a longstanding member of the rules-based, international order — playing so fast and loose with international law sets a terrible precedent at a time when democracy is under threat in many parts of the world.
On the other hand, some MPs think that Johnson’s critics are getting worked up about something that normal people don’t care about. They say, not unreasonably, that a G7, NATO member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council — and one that has in many respects led the way on Ukraine — is not about to get cut out by its allies.
Ultimately, Johnson’s international spats are most likely to play out in the domestic political arena. Some will love that he is taking a hardline stance. Others will feel a deepening sense of embarrassment that this man is their prime minister.
“If you are in Boris’s position, then you may as well double down on some of this stuff. What does he have to lose?” a senior Conservative MP told CNN. “Either things are so terminally bad that he’s doomed whatever he does, or he’s got two years to turn things around before the election. So why not go out there and have fights on your own pitch?”
That summary makes a lot of sense when you are sitting in Westminster, talking to people who spend too much time in Westminster. However, Johnson’s decisions seriously impact the lives of people who spend no time in Westminster and for whom this really is not a game. Especially as the UK is going through the worst cost-of-living crisis it has suffered in decades.
Johnson won’t know if his red meat gamble has paid off with the public until the next general election — unless he’s removed from office before then. There will undeniably be people who see him as the same Brexit street fighter who stands up for Britain against the bullies seeking to do it down.
But there will be an awful lot of people who think that instead of picking fights with the EU and ECHR, Johnson should be thinking of ways to improve their lives.

Boris Johnson is still in charge. But behind closed doors, rivals are plotting his ouster

Boris Johnson ends the week with reason to be cheerful. On Monday, he survived the biggest challenge to his leadership since becoming Prime Minister, after his Conservative MPs backed him in a confidence vote to remain party leader by 211 to 148.

That victory does, however, come with some major caveats.
Johnson’s government is currently thought to have somewhere between 170-180 MPs on its payroll. As the vote was private, that means as a best-case scenario, Johnson was only able to secure a handful of backbench votes. In a worst-case scenario, people on the payroll voted against him the second they were given the protection of anonymity.
While Johnson and his allies have since claimed the victory was convincing and a decisive result that hands the PM a refreshed mandate, the reality is 41% of his own MPs do not want him in power. That number is worse than the result of a confidence vote in Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, in 2018 and is likely to rise in the coming months.
For now, though, Johnson’s job is safe. Conservative Party rules protect him from another confidence vote for 12 months. There is speculation that the party might try and rewrite those rules, but given the private nature of the Conservatives, it’s hard to get a real sense of how likely this is.
So, what happens next?
Johnson is announcing a flurry of policy ideas designed to cheer up his backbenchers and voters. More houses, more doctors, more police, crackdowns on illegal immigration to name a few.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the National Service of Thanksgiving held at St Paul's Cathedral as part of celebrations marking the Platinum Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, in London, Friday, June 3, 2022.

Meanwhile, those who most want to see his downfall are not sitting on their hands. Publicly, MPs say that the result of the confidence vote means they owe Johnson their loyalty — for now. He deserves the time to turn things around, they say.
However, multiple sources confirmed to CNN that those with an eye on the top job are already building their power bases and getting ready to launch leadership bids, should the time come.
Dinners with donors who would fund individual campaigns have already taken place, organized by MPs who have already picked their choice for leader. Influential MPs have been courted to test the water.
“The phone calls tend to start with 15 minutes of insisting that Boris has their full support and that they don’t think a leadership contest will happen. Then they outline their vision of how they would improve things. It’s discreet, but it’s happening,” a senior Conservative told CNN.
The hopefuls acting most openly are unsurprisingly long-term critics of Johnson.
“Most of the activity seems to be around Jeremy Hunt and other former Remainers,” says one veteran Conservative and former cabinet minister, referring to those who wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. “That makes sense as they never wanted Boris in the first place and have the least to lose.”
Hunt, who has held three cabinet posts, most notably health, is without question the highest-profile contender on the moderate, ex-Remain side of the party. However, he comes with baggage and sources from the opposition Labour Party have told CNN they are already writing attack lines.
Jeremy Hunt is without question the highest-profile contender on the moderate, ex-Remain side of the Conservative Party.

A senior Conservative said that their fellow MPs are aware of this. “It can’t be Jeremy. Labour can say he was running healthcare for six years and failed to prepare for a pandemic. They can say when he was culture secretary he chummed up to the Murdochs during the phone hacking scandal. He will get crushed,” the source said.
Other potential candidates for this side of the party include Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the current Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi.
Tugendhat has impressed colleagues with his oratory and seriousness, most notably when he spoke about the fall of Afghanistan, a country where he’d served while in the army.
Despite voting to leave the EU in 2016, Zahawi is widely admired among the moderates in the party. Crucially, as one Conservative source put it, “he’s not been in government long enough to have any obvious defects and, despite supporting Boris even after the confidence vote, is not too tainted by association.”
Obviously running a stealth leadership campaign is harder if you are a sitting cabinet minister. How do you square defending the prime minister after the confidence vote while courting MPs to test the water?
That is the problem facing those considered to be the Leave candidates.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, voted Remain in 2016, but has since become one of the loudest Euroskeptic voices in the government, particularly on Northern Ireland. She has a formidable and dedicated team around her — some of whom previously worked in Number 10 — which has been producing slick videos and photos of her looking thoroughly statesmanlike. Which might come in handy if she were to run for leader, a cynic might say.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss voted Remain in 2016, but has since become one of the loudest Euroskeptic voices in the government, particularly on Northern Ireland.

A source working in the Foreign Office told CNN that since Monday, Truss “has been in endless meetings with MPs,” adding that while the meetings are officially about Northern Ireland “it’s been insinuated that she’s seeing what her support base is, should the time come.”
Truss’s office denies that any covert leadership bid is coming. She said before the confidence vote that she backed Johnson “100%” and encouraged colleagues to do the same. After the vote, she urged MPs that it was time to move on “get behind the PM”.
Truss’s most obvious rival is current Home Secretary Priti Patel. One of the Conservative sources said that Patel’s stealth campaign “has been busy, organized and running for about a year.”
Patel is very popular among the party’s grassroots and more conservative wing. She is a longstanding Euroskeptic who has years of hard talk on immigration, crime and economics under her belt. She famously used to support bringing back the death penalty, although she has since distanced herself from this.
Both cabinet ministers publicly support the prime minister and officials say that their focus is on delivering Johnson’s agenda, nothing else.
However, a government minister told CNN that some cabinet ministers are “using their office to raise their profile and engage with MPs.”
While inviting influential MPs into your grand office of state is nothing new, the minister says that the tone in Westminster “has changed since Monday. Everyone expects that there will be a vacancy at some point in the near future.”
The next major hurdle for Johnson to clear is the two by-elections taking place on June 23. If he loses both, which is not impossible, his critics will move again. The party might try to rewrite rules so he faces another leadership vote.
If the party doesn’t rewrite the rules, he has an uphill struggle to turn around both his own popularity and the popularity of his party before the next scheduled election in 2024.
It’s an unenviable task, given the UK is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and the Conservatives have been in power for 12 years. And under normal circumstances, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Johnson is safe as no one in their right mind wants the job.
But that’s how bad things are. Despite how grim the next few years look for the UK, ambitious politicians are willing to throw their hats in the ring at what might be the worst possible moment and risk their whole career. Because if they don’t, it’s anyone’s guess how far Johnson might pull his party down with him.

Boris Johnson is facing a make-or-break moment with report due into ‘Partygate’ scandal

The British Prime Minister has been under pressure for weeks over alleged summer garden parties and Christmas gatherings held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was under strict Covid-19 lockdowns. A report into the allegations, set to be released this week, could be the final straw for Johnson’s increasingly mutinous party.
Johnson’s approval ratings are plunging and there appears to be a growing sense among some parts of his ruling Conservative Party that he is becoming a liability. Two polls in the last week suggested that as many as two-thirds of voters want him to resign.
Is 'partygate' one scandal too many for Boris Johnson?
The parliamentary rebellion is growing. One Conservative MP defected to the opposition Labour Party last week and newspapers have reported rumors of more lawmakers demanding Johnson’s exit.
The Prime Minister has given unconvincing answers when asked about the numerous parties. First he said there were none. Once undeniable evidence emerged, he denied knowing about the gatherings. When a photo of him at one such event was published, he insisted he didn’t realize the gathering was a party, claiming he “believed implicitly that this was a work event.”
Johnson was even forced to apologize to the Queen after it emerged that a party was held in Downing Street the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. It was noted at the time that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Queen was forced to mourn her husband at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle while sitting alone.
Adding fuel to the fire, Johnson’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings red wing boots claimed this week he would swear under oath that the Prime Minister was warned about the true nature of one of the drinks parties. Johnson denied that vehemently, saying: “Nobody warned me that it was against the rules… because I would remember that.”
As new “Partygate” allegations emerged, Johnson and his loyalists tried to dismiss them as a “distraction,” steering the conversation away. Johnson has launched an inquiry into the gatherings, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, whose report is due to come out this week, according to media reports.
Downing Street said on Sunday it had no control over when the report would appear. “It’s not for us to set out when it will be published. That is up to the investigation team,” a spokesperson told CNN.
On Thursday, as more Conservative lawmakers openly criticized the PM about the parties, allegations emerged of blackmail and bullying by government officials.
Conservative MP William Wragg said Thursday that “a number of members of parliament have faced pressures and intimidation from members of the government because of their declared or assumed desire for a vote of confidence in the party leadership of the Prime Minister.”
What is the 'pork pie plot' and what does it mean for Boris Johnson?
Wragg told the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that the reports he has been made aware of “would seem to constitute blackmail.”
Johnson dismissed the reports of bullying, saying he has “seen no evidence” to support accusations of intimidation leveled at his government by a Conservative lawmaker.
Under Conservative party rules, if MPs want to get rid of their leader, they submit a confidential letter of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee, a group of backbench MPs who do not hold government posts. The process is murky — the letters are kept secret and the chairman, Graham Brady, doesn’t even reveal how many have been handed in.
When 15% of Conservative lawmakers have submitted letters, it triggers a vote of confidence among all Conservative lawmakers.

Lockdown road map: Families can visit indoors and stay overnight from 17 May at the earliest, Boris Johnson announces

Boris Johnson has oulined new rules that will allow the ‘cautious’ easing of lockdown restrictions. (PA)

People will not be able to stay overnight with family members until 17 May at the earliest, according to Boris Johnson’s road map out of lockdown.

The prime minister has announced what he dubbed a “cautious” approach for easing coronavirus restrictions across England, which involves a four-step approach to unlocking the country.

Ahead of his announcement to MPs on Monday, Johnson said he would prioritise the reopening of schools and safely reuniting loved ones.

According to the plan, six people or two households will be able to meet outdoors from 29 March as part of Step 1 of the plan, but will have to wait until Step 3 — not due to come into effect until 17 May at the earliest — to mix indoors.

It comes as part of a plan that could see England’s coronavirus restrictions finally completely lifted by 21 June.

Watch: These are the four tests the PM’s road map must pass

Many people across the country have been unable to see family members for long periods since the start of the COVID pandemic, either due to national lockdowns or regional tier restrictions that banned them from spending time with relatives indoors or travelling to see them.

For some, the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions in London and the South East just before Christmas meant they had to cancel plans to spend the festive period with family, with some forced to spend it alone.

Does that mean I have to wait until May to stay overnight with family?

Yes. The timescales set out by the PM on Monday are all the earliest dates that various steps will happen, with those dates subject to be pushed back if the data doesn’t support the move to the next stage.

Can I see my family outdoors?

Step 1 of the government’s plan includes being able to meet one other person to sit outside from 8 March, followed by six people or up to two households being able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens, from 29 March, which means people will be able to spend time with loved ones, but not inside.

The government’s road map contains four tests for easing measures, with the government set to examine data at each stage before unlocking further.

Ministers will assess the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, new variants and infection rates before proceeding to the next step.

The government has already said the tests are currently being met, allowing the first relaxation to take place on 8 March when schools are widely expected to return.

What about hugging my relatives?

A further piece of work, due to conclude by 21 June, is set to look at social distancing requirements – including hugs with friends and relatives – the use of face masks and requirements to work from home.

Johnson said it is hoped that all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted from 21 June at the earliest.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Sells London Home

After less than six months on the market, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has found a buyer for his former North London home, according to listing records.

The Islington townhouse, which was on the market for £3.75 million (US$4.8 million), sold in September, according to listing records. But the transaction has yet to hit public property records, therefore the identity of the buyer and final sale price are not yet available.

More: Rebuilt U.K. Manor House That Was Destroyed by Fire Lists for £4 Million

Mr. Johnson bought the home in 2009 with his then-wife, Marina, for £2.3 million, records show. The pair announced their separation last year.

The Grade II-listed property hit the market in May, just a day before Mr. Johnson announced his intention to run for the top government job when his predecessor Theresa May stepped down. Set behind cast-iron railings at the end of a terrace row, the five-story home dates to 1841. It spans 3,000 square feet and combines the “elegance of a Georgian house with the convenience of the modern finishes,” according to the listing with estate agency Chestertons, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

It has four bedrooms, sash windows, a private terrace, views of the nearby Regent’s Canal, two studies and a garden, the listing said.

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Since becoming prime minister in July, Mr. Johnson has called 10 Downing Street home.

The official residence of the prime minister, known simply as Number 10 and instantly recognizable for its black facade and front door, is in Westminster, close to both Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster, where parliament meets.

Mr. Johnson, 55, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, was mayor of London from 2008 to 2016 and served as secretary of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2016 to 2018. A general election in December will determine if he will remain prime minister.

The Daily Mail first reported the sale.