One former aide to Johnson described his current mentality as “scorched earth policy” in which “you’re retreating and you burn everything to the ground as you go.” Lucky us!
Esther Webber www.politico.eu
BORIS ON THE BRINK: Boris Johnson faces the music today with not one but two high-profile public appearances in the wake of a shattering day for his premiership which saw his health secretary and his chancellor quit the Cabinet in quick succession. Tuesday unfolded with dizzying speed, beginning with former Foreign Office chief Simon McDonald accusing the PM of lying about what he knew of accusations against Chris Pincher and ending with 10 fewer people prepared to stick up for the government, as ministers, parliamentary aides and trade envoys rapidly abandoned ship.
Watch this space: Johnson is digging in like never before, but there’s no escaping that he is materially weakened to the point where it’s hard to find (m)any of his own MPs who believe he can or should lead them into the next election. Playbook’s Eleni Courea has heard that more backbenchers from the 2019 intake are planning to put out letters today saying they’ve had enough. We hope you’re keen on popcorn, because there will be extra helpings today.
Popcorn starter: This morning it’s none other than the U.K.’s brand new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, on the broadcast round. There were reports of wrangling over the keys to No. 11 last night, with Downing Street deputy chief of staff David Canzini apparently making the case for Liz Truss, and Steve Barclay in the frame at one point, per the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith. But Zahawi — former refugee, pollster, wheeler dealer and until yesterday, education secretary — won out. For a primer on the PM’s new righthand man it’s well worth revisiting this profile of him in his breakthrough role as vaccines minister, by POLITICO’s own Emilio Casalicchio. There’s already some extremely choice briefing about how Zahawi will differ from Sunak, more of which in a minute.
Popcorn main course: PMQs is at midday, so anyone hoping to steal the limelight and cross the floor before that had better get their skates on. Johnson must summon up a whole new reserve of energy to deliver something resembling a fightback, with all eyes on the benches behind him. Jonathan Gullis — whose loyalty, in Timothy Stanley’s memorable phrase, previously bordered on hooliganism — quit as Northern Ireland PPS yesterday. No announcement on who’s being shuffled into the role of head PMQs cheerleader has yet been made.
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Popcorn pudding: Johnson will appear in front of the Liaison Committee at 3 p.m. for a grilling by select committee chairs, with some unlikely to show mercy. Contributions from well-known Johnson antagonists William Wragg and Caroline Nokes should be particularly spicy on the subject of the thought processes leading to Chris Pincher’s appointment as deputy chief whip despite numerous concerns raised over his conduct. Reminder: Johnson apologized for the appointment yesterday, but it was hard to make out with the sound of so many things crashing down around him. One Tory MP on the liaison committee was succinct in their preview to Playbook: “He is toast.”
PM’s message: A senior government official conceded to Playbook it had been a “tough day” (understatement of the year, anyone?) but pledged the PM would go on “delivering on what the people put us here to do.” Asked if Johnson was daunted, the same official said “he has a mandate from 14 million people to deliver an ambitious agenda, transforming the country, driving economic growth, reforming key services and showing leadership in tough times.” They insisted “he’s got two years to go” and “what he needs is a team of people around him who are committed” and “not having endless self-destructive fights among themselves.”
TLDR: The Times’ Steven Swinford has an anecdote which sums all that up nicely: “Boris Johnson was asked by an ally tonight if he was considering quitting. He responded: ‘Fuck that.’”
More on that: One former aide to Johnson described his current mentality as “scorched earth policy” in which “you’re retreating and you burn everything to the ground as you go.” Lucky us.