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Boris Johnson scrambles to regain authority

LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met his Cabinet and tried to patch up his tattered authority yesterday after surviving a no-confidence vote that has left him a severely weakened leader.

Johnson vowed to “get on with the job” and focus on “what matters to the British people” – defined as the economy, healthcare and crime – after Conservative Party lawmakers voted by 211 to 148 to support him as leader.

Johnson needed the backing of 180 of the 359 Conservative lawmakers in Monday’s secret ballot to stay in power. He got more than that – but although he described the win as “convincing”, the rebellion was larger than some of his supporters had predicted.

It was also a narrower margin than Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, got in a 2018 no-confidence vote. She was forced to resign six months later.

Under party rules, Johnson is now free from another challenge for a year. But previous prime ministers who have faced no-confidence votes, including May and Margaret Thatcher, have been terminally damaged.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks after surviving a confidence vote. PHOTO: AP

The rebellion was a sign of deep Conservative divisions, less than three years after Johnson led the party to its biggest election victory in decades.

Most British newspapers were in little doubt that it was bad news for Johnson.

The Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph said “Hollow victory tears Tories apart”, while the left-leaning Daily Mirror said bluntly: “Party’s over, Boris”.

The vote followed months of brewing discontent over the prime minister’s ethics and judgement that centred on revelations of lawbreaking parties in the prime minister’s office when Britain was under lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Conservative leader William Hague said that “while Johnson has survived the night, the damage done to his premiership is severe” and he should resign.

“Words have been said that cannot be retracted, reports published that cannot be erased, and votes have been cast that show a greater level of rejection than any Tory leader has ever endured and survived,” Hague wrote in the Times of London.

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