Boris Johnson is once again facing mounting anger from Conservative MPs, as the he struggles to brush off chaos on multiple fronts and avoid them spiralling into more serious questions about his leadership. Here are the major issues currently plaguing Downing Street.
The most immediate issue on the prime minister’s plate is the vote on Monday night over long-heralded plans to reform the social care system. The commitment that nobody should have to sell their home to pay for social care was a key part of the manifesto that helped catapult Johnson into Downing Street in 2019, so the backlash among Tory MPs to its potential unpicking is strong.
A change to the policy that slipped out late last week with no announcement in the Commons chamber means poorer pensioners will not be able to count means-tested payments by the state for their care towards a total cap of £86,000 for any individual. The move has gone down particularly badly in some “red wall” seats that flipped blue for the first time at the last election, where house prices are much lower than in the south, which means people would be more likely to have to sell their property to fund their own care.
Just before the vote in parliament, Johnson had travelled back from Tyneside, where he gave a rambling speech that was criticised by senior business leaders and Tory MPs for its unprofessional nature.
After an extensive verbal detour about the Peppa Pig World attraction in Hampshire, comparing himself to Moses and doing impressions of a car accelerating, he left some observers of the address stunned. That was compounded when he fluffed his lines and spent 20 seconds muttering “forgive me” as he rearranged his notes.
The Federation of Small Businesses questioned whether “the government is already losing its way, not just in speeches, but with regards to levelling up in the round”.
Some MPs were still reeling from last week, when the eastern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail link was scrapped and Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals were watered down to such an extent that experts argued the totemic aim of the whole project was on “life support”.
What was hoped to be a significant part of the “levelling up” project quickly crumbled – although the government still insisted the £96bn investment was colossal. Government figures are worried that it looks as though Johnson once again overpromised and underdelivered, with one minister saying: “Loose lips at the beginning sink good news days later on.”
Despite Johnson’s bid to draw a line under the three-week scandal into a Tory MP’s lobbying rules breach and another’s legal work taking them away from the Commons to vote by proxy from the British Virgin Islands, the wider concerns about propriety are a live issue.
Johnson has been rapped by the standards commissioner before, and could face a further investigation over the refurbishments into his Downing Street flat that were reported to have cost up to £200,000, part of which was originally covered by a Tory donor.
The prime minister, who attempted to set up a new committee to review standards rules, may have inadvertently strengthened the commissioner’s powers. A review by the standards committee that will recommend changes to the rules based on cross-party discussions is expected to be published later this month.
MPs say they are receiving many emails about the growing numbers of migrants arriving in small boats on the south coast of England who aim to apply for asylum.
Despite a promise by the home secretary, Priti Patel, more than two years ago to get the numbers down, the number of people crossing in small boats has never been higher. Now a Cabinet Office review has been set up to look into wider work that can be done across government.
With the number of migrants arriving already high in mid-November, some in government are concerned they will be much higher when spring and warmer weather arrive.