Boris Johnson faces toughest week as PM amid booster rollout and Covid rules rebellion

British prime minister also has to deal with Conservatives potentially losing Shropshire seat

Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces the most bruising week of his premiership this week, with pressure mounting on at least three fronts.

He is set to be hit with a potential huge rebellion among fellow MPs on Covid measures, difficult rule-breaking investigations and the potential by-election loss of a safe Conservative seat.

And there’s the growing threat of Covid, that could, as it has done in the past, obfuscate other failings.

Many people look forward to Christmas with relish. This year Mr Johnson will be anticipating the holidays with greater eagerness than most.

Inside the Johnson household the Christmas shutters will be welcomed after weeks of unrelentingly bad headlines since the MPs-with-second-jobs story broke in early November culminating in the resignation of Owen Paterson who had been sanctioned for breaking lobbying rules.

Mr Johnson lost some backing after an incautious decision to try and change the rules to help Mr Paterson. Support among MPs fell further when stories of rule-breaking during Christmas parties in Downing Street last year culminated in a picture of Mr Johnson participating in a quiz over Zoom with two colleagues present.

On Tuesday evening the size of the rebellion will become clear when the government puts to the vote new laws on Covid vaccine passports for venues.

A man dressed as Father Christmas stands with anti-vaccination protesters outside the Houses of Parliament as the Prime Minister faces a major rebellion on vaccine passport legislation. Getty

Reports suggest that up to 75 Conservatives could vote against the government, although with Labour backing the legislation it will be passed. However, that number presents a serious threat to Mr Johnson’s authority, particularly as it comes close to eroding his 80 seat majority.

It is also bad on another level. After an MP rebels once it can become a habit difficult to break.

The headlines will be tough and could prove intolerable if, in the early hours of Friday the Conservatives lose their 23,000 majority from Owen Paterson’s North Shropshire seat.

On the same day, possibly burying bad news in one swoop, the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is expected to report back on his investigation into at least three parties that allegedly broke lockdown rules last Christmas.

A fudged verdict is possible, particularly for the prime minister’s actions, with perhaps the grey area being used that the gatherings were on Crown Estate providing some exemption, if only on a technicality.

With Parliament in recess, Christmas parties done with, Mr Johnson may then be able to hideaway in Chequers awaiting public amnesia to set in following the season’s festivities.

Asked by The National if Mr Johnson has any plans for Christmas (for two years he disappeared to the Caribbean), the Prime Minister’s spokesman responded that he would be “leading the national mission to get people boosted”.

The unknown is whether more allegations in the final week before Christmas further unhinge Mr Johnson and send his MPs plotting for a replacement over the holiday or whether the largely self-imposed damage since November fades from memory.

The problem for the Conservatives is that there is only one Boris Johnson. No one else has the appeal to reach voters across a broad spectrum, including among former Labour ‘red wall’ voters. While highly popular among party members, the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is seen as too Thatcherite in the wider public and the youthful Chancellor Rishi Sunak scores poorly for his high taxation proposals.

After two months’ worth of imperfect headlines Mr Johnson may well emerge in the new year with success in the Omicron booster campaign by jabbing 20 million adults in 19 days, including Christmas Day.

He might announce fresh Covid-recovery plans and he may also shake up his Downing Street team now so tarnished by its apparent free-wheeling rule-breaking.

Talk of a leadership challenge could dissolve, especially if the tidal wave of Omicron subsumes all else. Indeed, only once Covid subsides will Mr Johnson finally be given the chance to demonstrate that he can deliver on his promises.

Updated: December 14th 2021, 4:33 PM