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A Bruised Boris Johnson Wins Confidence Vote

Johnson remains Britain’s prime minister but faces a restive Conservative Party as more than 40 percent of his party’s members of Parliament voted against his leadership.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No. 10 Downing St.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No. 10 Downing St.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No. 10 Downing St. in London on May 26. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s survival, U.S. solar moves, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Johnson Survives Confidence Vote

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s survival, U.S. solar moves, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Johnson Survives Confidence Vote

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived his closest brush with political oblivion yet, prevailing in a hastily convened no-confidence vote on Monday evening.

In a vote involving elected members of his Conservative Party, Johnson won the support of 211 of his colleagues versus 148 who voted against him.

The number of those opposing Johnson came as a surprise and underlines how far perceptions of Johnson have fallen since his resounding general election victory in 2019 as the scandal known as Partygate threatened to end his premiership entirely.

Is Boris finally safe? In theory, Johnson is now immune from any future leadership challenges for the next 12 months. In practice, the relatively thin margin of victory means that Johnson must keep looking over his shoulder. He’ll be keenly aware of the demise of Theresa May, the previous British prime minister who also survived a leadership challenge—with a larger margin of victory—only to resign six months later.

Chris Curtis, the head of political polling at polling firm Opinium, said the spin war over the leadership vote—whether Johnson did better or worse than previous prime ministers and whether he can maintain the full backing of his parliamentary party—misses an overarching truth.

“I cant see anything that’s going to change the fundamentals, which is voters dont like Boris Johnson, voters dont trust Boris Johnson, voters dont think that Boris Johnson can get anything done,” Curtis told Foreign Policy. “Voters are currently seeing their costs at the shops and on their energy bills going up massively and dont think that the government is doing enough to address that.”

With a potential recession looming in 2023, the Conservative Party is in a “deep existential crisis,” Curtis said, with its stewardship of the economy—usually a key talking point used against the opposition Labour Party—less likely to be a useful weapon in a general election.

What have world leaders said? Very little. The only leader of note who seems to be in Johnson’s corner is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who congratulated Johnson during his evening address on Monday. Given that the British government announced a new package of rocket launchers for Ukraine just yesterday, Zelensky is likely to keep up the vocal support.

How has the British media reacted? Reaction on today’s front pages oscillated between describing Johnson’s political damage (the Times and Financial Times described Johnson as “wounded”) and vilifying the rebellious Tories who voted against his leadership (tabloids such as the Sun, Daily Express, and the Daily Mail all took this route, alluding to back-stabbing while describing Johnson as “defiant” and “resolute”). 

Who is waiting in the wings? British betting shops currently give the shortest odds to a crop of leaders with a foreign-policy background. Bookies currently have Jeremy Hunt, a former British foreign secretary, as Johnson’s likely successor, with Penny Mordaunt, a junior trade minister; Liz Truss, the current foreign secretary; and Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (and occasional FP contributor) rounding out the top four.

Trying to read the tea leaves is not a perfect science, as fifth-placed Rishi Sunak knows well: The British chancellor had been considered a shoo-in to succeed Johnson before a family tax scandal upended his chances.


What We’re Following Today

Kishida’s new pitch. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to deliver a speech outlining his “new capitalism” policy today in Tokyo. After initially promising wealth redistribution on the campaign trail, Kishida has been criticized for watering down his proposals to adhere more closely to the pro-market “Abenomics” of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Baerbock in Pakistan. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travels to Pakistan on a two-day visit, where she is expected to meet with her Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and new Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. In addition to bilateral issues, Baerbock is likely to focus on the plight of Afghan refugees, many of whom have crossed the border into Pakistan.


Keep an Eye On

U.S. solar boost. U.S. President Joe Biden attempted to boost the U.S. solar industry on Monday, announcing a two-year waiver on tariffs on solar parts from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Solar imports from those four countries have been the subject of a U.S. Commerce Department investigation after a U.S. manufacturer alleged Chinese companies were laundering the parts through the Southeast Asian nations to avoid tariffs.

Biden also plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up the production of U.S. clean energy technology.

The Americas summit. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declined an invitation to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where regional leaders are expected to gather on Wednesday. “There can’t be a Summit of the Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part,” López Obrador said, referencing the exclusion of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from the proceedings.

The decision is a blow to the U.S. hosts, though López Obrador said he would still be meeting with Biden later this month.

Sri Lanka’s future. Saying he did not want to leave his post as a “failed” leader, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has vowed to finish his last two years in office but not seek another term in a rare interview with Bloomberg.

Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister in May following deadly protests against the family’s rule and as the country endures an economic tailspin. Rajapaksa’s presidential powers may yet be reined in if lawmakers successfully pass a new amendment in Parliament.


Odds and Ends

Budget airline Ryanair has been criticized as discriminatory—and linguistically clueless—for forcing South African passport holders to submit to a test on South African trivia in the Afrikaans language before being allowed to board flights bound for the United Kingdom.

The airline said the measure is necessary to clamp down on passport fraud, but the British High Commission in South Africa has confirmed such a test is not part of its entry requirements.

For many South Africans, Afrikaans is closely associated with the white supremacist government that ruled the country during the apartheid era and imposed Afrikaans language requirements on the countrys Black majority, sparking widespread protests by Black schoolchildren. The Soweto uprising of June 1976—and the subsequent brutal police crackdown—was a landmark event that intensified domestic resistance and bolstered the global anti-apartheid movement.

Today, Afrikaans is only the third-most spoken language within households—after Zulu and Xhosa—in a country that recognizes 11 official languages. Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, denounced the Ryanair test as “utterly absurd.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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