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UK politics

A hammer blow for Johnson

Munira Mirza and the PM in happier times. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty

“Matt Hancock did it. Allegra Stratton did it.” But Boris Johnson, “our bumptious schoolboy-on-the-make leader”, still can’t bring himself to resign, says Judith Woods in The Daily Telegraph. “Britain deserves better.” We are deep in a cost of living crisis, with food banks in the UK now outnumbering branches of McDonald’s. “Russia is pushing the West to the brink of war.” Yet here we are, having to deal with such dysfunction in Downing Street that on Monday Johnson even missed a phone call with Vladimir Putin – a vital opportunity to avoid conflict in Ukraine – because he was busy trying to console angry MPs. He should do the “decent thing” and leave before being pushed ­– it’s his last opportunity to “salvage something from the ruins of his personal reputation”.

Yesterday’s resignation of Munira Mirza, Johnson’s policy chief, is a hammer blow, says Sean O’Grady in The Independent. It’s difficult to exaggerate her importance to the PM – she’s worked with him, on and off, for 15 years, ever since he was mayor of London. “In terms of influence, she’s more important than most of the cabinet.” Mirza suggested in her resignation that the final straw was Johnson’s refusal to apologise for his smear about Keir Starmer not prosecuting Jimmy Savile. It’s like the moment Geoffrey Howe turned on Margaret Thatcher in 1990 – an attack is so much more powerful, and terminal, when delivered by a long-time ally and friend.

Paradoxically, the PM’s one remaining asset is the sheer range of his enemies, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. “Tory fury towards Johnson is real and potent.” But because it spans all wings of the party – left and right, Brexit and Remain – it’s not well organised. When Theresa May was leader, opposition “was united around a single aim: ousting her and pushing for a harder Brexit. They also had, in Johnson, a candidate ready to install in Downing Street.” If – or when – Johnson does finally go, there are at least seven MPs thinking about bidding to replace him. Things might be shambolic now. But in the words of one party grandee, a leadership contest would be “bloody messy”.

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