LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a dramatic no-confidence vote on Monday, a too-close-for-comfort result that leaves him badly wounded and sets off a volatile period in British politics as he fights to stay in power and fend off potential challengers in his Conservative Party.
The vote, 211 to 148, fell short of the simple majority of Tory lawmakers needed to oust Mr. Johnson as party leader. But it laid bare how badly his support has hemorrhaged since last year, when a scandal erupted over reports that he and his aides threw parties at 10 Downing Street that violated the government’s lockdown rules.
Mr. Johnson vowed to stay on, arguing before the vote that it should put an end to months of speculation about his future. In an address to party members as they prepared to cast their ballots, he urged them to avoid a “pointless fratricidal debate about the future of the party.’’
“I will lead you to victory again and the winners will be the people of this country,” he pledged, according to excerpts from the text released by a party official.
History shows, however, that Conservative prime ministers who have been subjected to such a vote — even when they win it — are usually drummed out of office, if not immediately then in a few months.
For Mr. Johnson, who led the Conservatives to a landslide election victory in 2019 with the promise to “get Brexit done,” it was a vertiginous fall from grace.
In less than three years, he went from Britain’s most reliable vote-getter — a celebrity politician who redrew the country’s political map — to a scandal-scarred figure whose job has been in peril since the first reports of illicit lockdown parties emerged last November.
As Britons paid tribute to the queen’s 70 years of service last week, they were turning against the brief, chaotic tenure of their prime minister. On Friday, Mr. Johnson was booed by the crowd at St. Paul’s Cathedral when he and his wife, Carrie, attended a thanksgiving service for Queen Elizabeth II.
That moment may have crystallized the loss of public support for Mr. Johnson, an ethically flexible journalist-turned-politician whose peccadilloes were forgiven more often than not by a charmed public.
Still, for now, Mr. Johnson remains in power and the odds of removing him depend on several wild cards.
Will his Cabinet rebel against him, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s did in 1990, precipitating her swift resignation, even after she survived a vote challenging her leadership?
Will the party threaten to change its rules to hold a second no-confidence vote, as it did in 2019 after Prime Minister Theresa May prevailed in the first vote? That persuaded her to negotiate her exit six months later.
Will Mr. Johnson gamble by calling an early general election, seeking a mandate from the public that he could not get from his party?
In 1995, John Major triggered, and won, a no-confidence vote, only to go down to a crushing defeat to Tony Blair and the Labour Party two years later. Given Britain’s economic woes and the Conservative Party’s weakness in the polls, some Tories fear a similar outcome this time.