Scholars: BoJo's India Charm Offensive & Beating the Drum for Ukraine Won't Make 'Partygate' Go Away

© AFP 2022 / BEN STANSALLBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at the airport in Ahmedabad on April 21, 2022
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at the airport in Ahmedabad on April 21, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.04.2022
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While British PM Boris Johnson is facing a third investigation into whether he knowingly misled Parliament when he denied breaking any government COVID-19 rules, he embarked on a two-day visit to India seeking to discuss a bilateral free trade agreement and Ukraine crisis.
"Any deal done with the Modi Government will be overshadowed by his position in Parliament," says Alistair Jones, associate professor of politics at Leicester's De Montfort University. "[Johnson's] decision to go, despite the vote on his investigation, was a high risk strategy."
A motion to probe whether BoJo lied to British MPs about Downing Street parties was passed on 21 April.
The British premier recently received a fine from London's Metropolitan Police for over a surprise birthday party his wife Carrie threw for him at 10 Downing Street on 19 June 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
On 19 April, Johnson offered MPs an apology for violating his government's COVID-19 restrictions, but insisted that that he didn't know that the 2020 party with Number 10 staff and ministers "could amount to a breach of the rules."
"Either Johnson knew what his own Government’s law said and therefore he lied or he did not know what his own law said (despite quoting it daily in his COVID press conferences) in which case his incompetence is so grotesque that he should not even be in Parliament, never mind No 10 Downing Street," says Rodney Atkinson, an academic, founder of the freenations.net website and a former ministerial advisor.
According to the British academic, BoJo's performance in Parliament on this issue "was so embarrassing that I now think senior figures have realised he must go."
But as things currently stand, Johnson will stay in place for the short-term at least, notes Jones. The professor explained that the new investigation by the Privileges Committee will take some time.
© AP Photo / Ajit SolankiIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a convention of elected representatives of local bodies in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, March 11, 2022.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a convention of elected representatives of local bodies in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, March 11, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.04.2022
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a convention of elected representatives of local bodies in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, March 11, 2022.

Charm Offensive in India

BoJo's tour to India was obviously undertaken in hope that the "partygate" issue "will be kicked down the path and something else more important will grab the news headlines," according to Jones.
The British premier's charm offensive in India was in particular aimed at concluding a bilateral free trade deal between London and New Delhi. According to BoJo, the agreement might be struck by October 2022. Britain and India also agreed on 22 April to step up defence and business cooperation.
In addition, Prime Minister Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi discussed the Russian special operation in Ukraine. The two premiers called for a ceasefire in Ukraine, but "Johnson did not pressure Modi to take a tougher stand against Russia", the Associated Press reported on Friday citing Harsh Shringla, India’s foreign secretary.

"Politicians who are in trouble at home love overseas visits," says Atkinson. "The host country does not know about or understand the domestic crisis."

The PM's softly-softly diplomatic approach with Modi notwithstanding, Atkinson insists that "Johnson’s extreme aggression against Russia will not go down well in India, which like China has taken a much more neutral stance on Ukraine, continuing to trade with Russia with which it has had long standing trade and political arrangements since Soviet times. Johnson’s Russophobic aggression will not make it easy to conclude agreements with India."
BoJo's Indian trip is unlikely to divert the Brits from the "partygate" scandal, especially amid soaring inflation and plummeting living standards in the UK, according to Atkinson. "It… does not make good TV viewing to see a British leader travelling to exotic regions when his electorate at home is suffering the consequences of his economic incompetence," the economist says.
"The 'partygate' story will not go away," echoes Mark Garnett, a politics professor at Lancaster University and author of the book The British Prime Minister in an Age of Upheaval. "It will certainly overshadow discussions with the Indian premier Narendra Modi, which in any case were never likely to lead to any significant benefits for Britain."
© REUTERS / POOLBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown around the Royal Tank Regiment Battlegroup by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth after a joint press conference at the Tapa Army Base, in Tallinn, Estonia March 1, 2022.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown around the Royal Tank Regiment Battlegroup by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth after a joint press conference at the Tapa Army Base, in Tallinn, Estonia March 1, 2022.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.04.2022
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown around the Royal Tank Regiment Battlegroup by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Worth after a joint press conference at the Tapa Army Base, in Tallinn, Estonia March 1, 2022.

Clouds Gathering on BoJo's Horizon

Meanwhile, the upcoming local elections on May 5 could be a litmus test for Johnson's popularity, according to the observers.
Jones points out that the Tories lost during Theresa May's government thanks to her unpopularity for failing to secure a favourable Brexit deal. In 2019 the Tories lost 1,330 seats, mostly to the smaller Liberal Democrats and the Green party.
"It will be difficult to see how much more they can lose from a very low starting point," Jones notes.
However, the biggest issue of all for British Conservatives is whether they can win the next general election with Boris Johnson as their leader, the observers say. If the Tories lose the local elections, this may complicate BoJo's situation despite his supporters' claiming that he shouldn't be removed amid the Russian special operation in Ukraine.
"The argument that the country should not think about changing its leader at a time of international crisis is clearly not working with some very senior figures in the Conservative Party," notes Garnett.
BoJo and his loyalists apparently forget that the UK once changed a prime minister even when it was at war, says Jones, referring to Winston Churchill replacing Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. Chamberlain, whose efforts to avoid war by a policy of appeasement with Germany and Italy had failed disastrously, died six months later from cancer.
Moreover, the UK is itself not officially at war and therefore the narrative of "the traditional support for a Prime Minister in times of war" is not relevant now, according to Atkinson.

"As the true consequences of Johnson’s excessive Government expenditure hit the public in higher taxes and as the Russia sanctions drive up energy and food prices and as businesses are called upon to pay for the Government’s failures there is every day less and less reason for the electorate to support this particular leader, no matter what foreign adventures he engages in," Atkinson concludes.

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