As the old saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. And when he looked ahead to what was going to happen during the past seven days, the prime minister will have known that the solid groundwork he has put in since the turn of the year – giving the impression that the grown up’s are back in charge, getting a grip on the economic car crash he inherited, and sorting out a better trade deal with the EU – could all unravel.
Whenever Boris Johnson is in the headlines, it is seldom good news for Sunak or the government these days. So this week, where the former resident of Number Ten was agitating for a rebellion on his successors ‘Windsor Framework’ bill AND appearing before the commons privileges committee to explain away his lockdown antics, there was always going to be some trepidation in the (mainstream) Conservative ranks.
Had Sunak’s EU legislation needed opposition support to get through, then his position would have been in serious peril. Not having the ability to deliver key legislation without Labour votes is an unsustainable place to be for a Tory leader.
Similarly, a barnstorming, confident, authentic, and credible performance in a gruelling 3-hour grilling from MPs at the select committee hearing into lockdown parties in Downing Street from Johnson, could have resulted in enough Conservative MPs getting behind a ‘Bring Back Boris’ bandwagon to make life very uncomfortable for Rishi.
As it transpired, the current PM need not have worried about the former PM. His deal with the EU sailed through the Commons, with just 22 Tories going through the ‘nay’ lobby. And, in full view of those who could be bothered to watch, Johnson crashed and burnt in the Grimond Committee Room, portraying himself as either one of the stupidest people on the planet (which I don’t think he is) or a liar.
Either way, it was a deeply dodgy performance that will have all those other than the most blindingly loyal Johnson supporters (Dorries, Rees Mogg et al) from concluding that, for now at least, Boris’ political comeback will have to be put on ice.
So, Rishi Sunak is safe – for now. If inflation isn’t brought under control as quickly as he has promised; if he suffers a bad set of local election results in May; if the small boats continue to cross the channel in large numbers – that could all change. Yes, it’s been a good week for Rishi. But there are many weeks ahead for the prime minister to navigate – and much tougher ones too I guess.