31 December 2021

In Pictures: Boris Johnson ends 2021 on back foot after year of ups and downs

31 December 2021

Boris Johnson began the year with hopes that the vaccines that had come online in December would soon cast coronavirus if not into oblivion then at least into a place where normal life could resume for most Britons.

Little would he have imagined that a year on it would be his own staff’s behaviour in the build-up to last Christmas that would be dominating headlines, with the emergence of the Omicron variant raising the spectre of more emergency provisions and the deja vu decision of whether to lock down for a second festive period.

The travails of the Tory leader ensured 2021 would end on a high for some opposition parties, with the Lib Dems pulling off a spectacular win in the North Shropshire by-election and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer moving his party decisively on from the Jeremy Corbyn era and taking the lead in most opinion polls.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer behind him walk through the Central Lobby on their way from the House of Lords after listening to the Queen’s Speech (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
A rare moment of levity in 2021 for Mr Johnson as he rides a bicycle in the Manchester Central Convention Complex during the Conservative Party Conference (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Johnson at least got to resume face-to-face meetings with world leaders with a visit to the UN General Assembly following his hosting of the G7 in Cornwall.

That would be the last G7 appearance of Angela Merkel whose marathon stint as German chancellor began when Tony Blair was prime minister and encompassed the premierships of Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Mr Johnson before ending in December.

The murder in October of Southend West’s Conservative MP Sir David Amess during a constituency surgery was a reminder of the perils of life as a politician.

A person views flowers left in memory of Sir David Amess outside the Houses of Parliament (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The year started with a promotion for Kwasi Kwarteng to Business Secretary with Alok Sharma taking responsibility for November’s Cop26 summit, while a new party appeared in Scotland in the form of Alba, fronted by former first minister Alex Salmond following a spectacular falling out with Nicola Sturgeon, his successor as SNP First Minister of Scotland.

With Covid having wreaked havoc with elections in 2020, Mr Salmond’s new party was, like the more established outfits, preparing to campaign in forthcoming elections.

Former SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond taking the newly formed Alba Party into electoral battle (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

There was mixed news for parties at the May elections with Labour failing to make a national breakthrough but taking solace with mayoral wins for the likes of the re-elected Sadiq Khan in London and Tracy Brabin becoming the first West Yorkshire mayor, prompting her resignation as MP for Batley and Spen where she had replaced the murdered Jo Cox in 2016.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan is hugged by one of his daughters after he was re-elected as Mayor of London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)
Labour’s Tracy Brabin during the count for the West Yorkshire mayoral election in Leeds – she became the first holder of the office (Amy Murphy/PA) (PA Archive)

The “blink and you missed it” moment of 2021 came with Edwin Poots ousting Arlene Foster as DUP leader before himself being shown the door by party rival Sir Jeffrey Donaldson just three weeks later amid unionist disquiet over Northern Ireland’s status in the Brexit agreement.

Paul Givan managed to remain as the new First Minister despite the DUP leadership machinations, but with the Northern Ireland Protocol still teetering under Brexit pressures and Sir Jeffrey threatening to bring down the Stormont institutions without progress in talks with the EU, the delicate impasse will roll over to 2022.

Former Democratic Unionist Party leader Edwin Poots talks with the man who replace him, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during a Battle of the Somme commemoration (Peter Morrison/PA) (PA Wire)

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, having just tied the knot with Carrie Symonds, finally got a chance to star on the world stage as he hosted international leaders in Cornwall for the G7 summit, with Joe Biden and Mrs Merkel among those attending.

Boris Johnson and wife Carrie on their wedding day (Rebecca Fulton/PA) (PA Media)
The Queen with G7 leaders in Cornwall (Jack Hill/The Times/PA) (PA Archive)

In June, health secretary Matt Hancock quit the role when footage of him in a clinch with an aide emerged at a time when Britons were required to socially distance – it spelled the end of Mr Hancock’s marriage but also the return to the Cabinet of former chancellor Sajid Javid, who took on the mantle of tackling the pandemic.

Labour was thought to be vulnerable to a Tory challenge at Batley and Spen while a strong campaign by George Galloway of the Workers Party also spelled danger but Kim Leadbeater, the sister of the late Ms Cox, kept the seat in the Labour column after an eventful campaign.

Meanwhile Mrs Merkel’s long auf wiedersehen to the political world was acknowledged by the Queen who hosted her at Windsor Castle.

Matt Hancock had to resign as health secretary after an affair with adviser Gina Coladangelo amid coronavirus restrictions (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Sir Keir Starmer walks with Kim Leadbeater who won the Batley and Spen by-election (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
The Queen hosted Angela Merkel as the German chancellor prepared to step down (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Johnson met world leaders again and other power brokers in New York, the city of his birth, at the UN while Sir Keir was determined to show the public that Labour was forging a new era as his party held its conference in Brighton.

The even was not without controversy, with Sir Keir heckled by one delegate and having to address remarks from deputy Angela Rayner who had branded Tories as scum, the leader also raised eyebrows by opining that the next James Bond should be female.

Boris Johnson meets Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos during the United Nations General Assembly in New York (Stefan Roussos/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer is joined by his wife Victoria on stage after delivering his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The tone in politics changed when Sir David was murdered while meeting constituents at a surgery in Leigh-on-Sea.

The Tories also mourned the death from cancer of former minister James Brokenshire in October.

The hearse carrying the coffin of Sir David Amess MP crosses Parliament Square after leaving the Palace of Westminster (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
The coffin of James Brokenshire is carried from St John The Evangelist church in Bexley, south-east London (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Much of the year had seen a build-up to the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow which had been billed as an attempt to save the planet from environmental disaster.

Although Joe Biden and many leaders came and went, the likes of China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin decided not to attend, leaving many campaigners disappointed.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Action Zone during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

As the festive season approached, the detection in South Africa of the Omicron variant of coronavirus sparked a new wave of concern that the NHS might be overwhelmed.

Some new measures were announced, although many Tory rebels voiced anger at suggestions of a vaccine passport and voted with their feet in a Commons votes won by Mr Johnson only because Labour decided to support  it.

But a string of embarrassing reports suggesting that Downing Street aides had indulged in festive gatherings in the build-up to Christmas in 2020 led to a torrent of bad headlines for the premier which were capitalised on by the other parties, with the Liberal Democrats claiming the notable by-election scalp of North Shropshire, previously a bastion for the Tories and which Owen Paterson had won by nearly 23,000 votes in 2019 before stepping down amid his battle with the standards committee.

Newly elected Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan in Oswestry, Shropshire, following her stunning victory in the North Shropshire by-election in a previously ultra-safe Tory stronghold (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

It was the second seat taken by the Lib Dems after they won Chesham and Amersham in June following the death of Tory MP Dame Cheryl Gillan.

Another late blow for Mr Johnson came with the December resignation of Conservative peer Lord Frost, who had led the Brexit negotiations with the EU. He cited “the current direction of travel” of the Government, as well as fears over “coercive” Covid measures in his reasons for leaving Cabinet.

Lord David Frost speaks during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in October (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Amid some suggestions that the Prime Minister could face a leadership challenge in the new year, the festive break will give Mr Johnson time to take stock.

Although 2021 brought a new marriage and baby for the Prime Minister, he will be hoping for a brighter prospect on the political front in 2022.

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