Partygate could mark the end of Boris Johnson, European media have concluded, painting a devastating picture of a “vain, fickle, hypocritical opportunist” with an “elastic relationship to the truth” who only ever “played at being prime minister”.
Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung said in a brutal op-ed that it had “only ever been a matter of time” before the British prime minister was exposed to one and all as the emperor with no clothes.
“Boris Johnson has never really changed,” the paper said. “He’s always been a seducer and a loudmouth. Always lied when it’s in his interest. He is the great illusionist of British politics.” Johnson’s “remorseful confessions” and “submissive contrition” will do little to change things, the paper said.
He may have “posed as Churchill” and looked like “the saviour of the kingdom” after his election victory in 2019, but unlike his historical hero, “Johnson has himself led Britain into an existential crisis, for which he bears full responsibility.
“He has not given up his playful, unserious nature. His fickleness is revealed in his government’s absence of strategy. Snobbery explains his lack of interest in the state of the country. Boris Johnson doesn’t govern, he plays at being prime minister.”
Another German paper, Die Welt, said few options remained open. With polls showing 66% of voters wanted him to step down, Johnson “could voluntarily and immediately resign, as all three opposition leaders urged him to do. But that has never happened in British parliamentary history.”
He intends in any case to wait for the outcome of the official investigation, the paper said, and assured the Commons on Wednesday he would accept its conclusion. If Sue Gray’s verdict allows, however, the prime minister would probably try to hang on.
“But that won’t be easy,” the paper said. “The public view that there is ‘one rule for those up there, and another for everyone else’ has taken root.” Johnson may even have to go before local elections: “Partygate has made the Joker a burden.”
Handelsblatt, another German publication, agreed. “Johnson has weathered many storms,” it said. “But this time, it looks bad. Even if the investigation exonerates him, he has tough weeks ahead: soaring inflation, a cost of living crisis … His overthrow looks likely by May.”
For France’s Le Monde, the last couple of months have proved “calamitous” for a “bumbling politician” whose faults – “opportunism, no attention to detail, an elastic relationship with the truth” – everyone seemed ready to forgive, until now.
The PM’s fall in popularity has been “so brutal that his immediate future appears to be in jeopardy”, the paper said, with many Tory MPs “now doubting his ability to lead the party to a fourth consecutive victory” and the rightwing press turning on him.
“Johnson should not be underestimated: he has political flair, charisma and, so far, he has been very lucky,” the paper said. But if he survives partygate, he still has to act on the cost of living, and “satisfy impatient Brexiters with more than chimeras”.
Having ousted its “most reasonable members”, Johnson, caught between “a young guard demanding more public spending for the disadvantaged, and Thatcherites eschewing all state intervention”, has no moderate Tory support left, it said.
For Libération, too, “gone are the days of arrogant victories, electoral landslides and spicy slogans. Two and a half years after his election, prime minister Boris Johnson is up against the wall. The party is over – and so are the jokes.”
After multiple previous revelations, the “spring aperitif” mid-lockdown could prove fatal, the French paper said. At PMQs on Wednesday, Tory MPs said little about the scandal – “but behind the thick curtains of the tearooms, things are on the move”.
Spain’s El País said the prime minister’s ability to surprise “has much to do with how he shuns conventional thinking. He does what no one would expect, and acts as if he is exempt from the rules that apply to other mortals,” the paper said.
“Until Wednesday, when he had no choice but to take the obvious course and say sorry.” Typically, however, even his apology was “an attempt to cover his back”, the paper said: “He admitted his presence – but said he thought it was a work gathering.”
In the Netherlands, NRC Handelsblad said the scandal was “just one of the many difficult developments Johnson has to contend with”, citing soaring living costs due to “inflation, high energy prices and the negative consequences of Brexit”.
Add in the coming tax and social security hike in April and despite “Johnson’s proven ability to squeeze out of a tight spot like nobody else”, his prospects for survival looked slim, “particularly when 65% of the electorate consider him incompetent”.
De Volksrant said Johnson’s “clownish appearance conceals a man long engaged on a ruthless drive for the top – but one who needs to be loved. That may explain why he couldn’t say no to a drink with his staff.”
It was not voters or the opposition that can topple Johnson this time, the Dutch paper said, but his own party. “Hugely popular at the time of his election victory, he has since made enemies in his own circle. That distaste becomes dangerous when the prime minister’s popularity with voters is plunging.”