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'Save Big Dog': Will BoJo Keep His Job or Leave No 10?

© Photo : Robbie KnoxPeople Dressed As Boris Johnson Gather For Party Outside Downing Street
People Dressed As Boris Johnson Gather For Party Outside Downing Street - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.01.2022
The Independent learnt that BoJo has kicked off "Operation Save Big Dog," which envisages a series of resignations in response to emerging reports of Downing Street parties during the COVID pandemic. British academics Alistair Jones and Sarah Lieberman have discussed the alleged op and weighed up BoJo's chances of staying afloat.
Boris Johnson is reportedly seeking to shift the blame for the "partygate" on some of his government officials in order to salvage his premiership, according to The Independent.
Last week Johnson offered apologies in the House of Commons for May 2020's "bring-your-own-booze" party. However, further reports of regular "wine time Fridays" at No10 have emerged since then. According to The Mirror, the events aimed at "letting off steam" were so popular that staff bought a £142 drinks fridge to keep their wine and beer cool. One of those parties occurred on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral, during which Queen Elizabeth II sat all alone because of tough social distancing rules. Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, has been tasked with inquiring about alleged violations of lockdown rules within the UK government.

'Operation Save Big Dog'

"The alleged Save Big Dog story is an interesting one," says Alistair Jones, associate professor of politics at De Montfort University in the UK. "Downing Street No 10 is denying such a title going on, but the whole idea of trying to work out who to sacrifice to save the prime minister is something that a lot of people in Britain will find disconcerting or even worse. The reason is that you don't blame officials when you are the person responsible."
If Boris Johnson is drawing up a list of "which official can we sack for which party," he is actually going to run out of people able to work for him, warns the academic: "There have been so many parties now he can't simply sack one or two people and blame them for everything."
Even though the "Save Big Dog" op could shield BoJo for now, yet another damning piece of evidence might prompt further calls for the premier to step down immediately, Jones notes.
However, it would take time for Tories to oust BoJo if the he refuses to resign, the professor admits:
"What the British have to do is to wait for 54 Conservative MPs to formally write to the chairman of the 1922 committee, who is the top backbench MP," Jones says. "If 54 write to him demanding the prime minister's resignation, then there is a leadership election between 'do you want Boris Johnson? Yes or no?' If he wins, he stays in power for another 12 months. If he loses he has to resign."
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference to update the nation on the Covid-19 booster vaccine program in the Downing Street briefing room in central London on December 15, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.01.2022
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Sue Gray's investigation also poses a challenge to the prime minister, according to Dr. Sarah Lieberman, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK. If Gray's report suggests he lied to the House of Commons that he did not know about a series of the Downing Street parties, "then his position becomes untenable," she highlights.

"It is an offence under the Ministerial code to lie to the House of Commons, and at this point, Johnson will be expected to resign, and if he fails to do so will face a vote of no confidence," Lieberman says. "Having denied all knowledge of the parties to the Commons, he is on thin ice here, and his only defence that 'he did not realise it was not a work event' may not wash with Gray - an experienced civil servant."

The PM's alleged decision to sacrifice some of his government's officials is nothing new, according to Jones: "BoJo has a long track record, of doing such things - when he was a journalist, when he was a backbench MP, when he was mayor of London, when he was a cabinet minister. This is just part of the person that is Boris Johnson."
According to the academic, Johnson would sacrifice friends, his political party, other people's careers to do anything to protect himself.
"This is something he has done before," echoes Lieberman. "Allegra Stratton issued a tearful apology only a few weeks ago for comments regarding a party she did not even attend."
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) sits beside Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) at a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on September 1, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
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Who Could Replace BoJo?

However, the British press has already started speculating about potential candidates to fill BoJo's shoes should he resign, naming Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Jeremy Hunt, and Priti Patel as probable Tory picks.
According to Lieberman, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the most probable candidate to replace Johnson:
"[Sunak] has distanced himself most fully from the PM, he did not attend PMQs on Wednesday which allowed him to remain apart from the scandal," she says. "Liz Truss on the other hand has aligned herself with Johnson, which may not look good to the Conservatives as they look for an alternative."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, January 12, 2022.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 17.01.2022
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Jones holds another stance: the professor believes that Liz Truss and Priti Patel have more chances of winning the party's leadership than the other two candidates.
"I don't think Rishi Sunak has enough support within the party," he notes. "And Jeremy Hunt, he was the runner-up to Boris Johnson last time around, but I don't think he's got enough people there in the MPs."
At the same time, MPs want someone of a similar political outlook as Johnson, that's why they might tap either Patel or Truss for the job, the academic suggests.

And still, one should not rule out Johnson's continuation yet, Lieberman stresses: "He has slipped through many a scandal, and it is not impossible – however distasteful it may seem – that he might avoid the brunt of this one too," she concludes.

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