Westminster year ahead: Boris Johnson faces the same old battles next year, but will he be around for them?

The UK Government goes into 2022 facing many of the same issues of the previous year, but now with considerably less authority to handle them.

Boris Johnson finds himself at a crossroads, with the Prime Minister who was previously said to be eyeing another decade in power now at risk of being ousted before the summer.

Speaking to MPs across the house, the sense is that what seemed an impossibility just three months ago – Mr Johnson’s departure from the top role – is now within touching distance.

Mr Johnson has been hurt by sleaze scandals, Christmas parties and a series of breaches his Government has sought to dismiss rather than deny.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a lot to tackle in 2022

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There are many issues for the UK Government to tackle in 2022, but the question of who will lead them through it is no longer rhetorical.

One Tory MP told The Scotsman the party was in a state of “exhaustion” and would not hesitate to make a change.

They explained: “The Tory party is a brutal organisation.

"The sole reason for its existence is to maintain itself in government, because we believe it's better than the other party as a way to run Britain.

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"The last six weeks have been incredibly wearing and the last two years incredibly tough.

"When the party is not seen to do well, we have seen it can take swift and brutal action."

The MP pointed to the fact the UK Government was half-way through a five-year term and “not making things easy for ourselves”.

Some MPs believe the uncertainty over the Tory leadership will spill over into the Government’s priorities.

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Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael suggested with Mr Johnson’s authority waning, “we are likely to see policy making done on the basis of frenetic Tory leadership positioning”.

He continued: “Ambitious Cabinet ministers aiming for Number 10 will be looking to shore up support with their party membership and ignoring the wider public even more.

"Whether that is Liz Truss picking fights with the EU, Rishi Sunak proposing tax cuts for the wealthy or Priti Patel seeking ever-more draconian powers to attack human rights, the Tory party will be looking inward."

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Speaking to figures in Government, the focus remains on the recovery from the pandemic, as well as clear slogans such as building back better and levelling up.

A white paper on levelling up has already been delayed until the new year, despite a Government department being renamed after it.

And with Covid restriction, Mr Sunak will be under pressure once again to find financial support for the hospitality sector.

Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie explained the priorities for next year have not really changed and predicted more UK Government investment in Scotland.

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He said: “With Covid going into 2021 it’s as it was last year. It’s how we manage the next few months.

"Keeping an eye on the cost of living and inflation I think is going to be one of the bigger issues.

“Another will be the levelling up paper in January, and we want the Scottish Government to engage and help deliver our proposals.

“It will be also interesting to see how much further we go in terms of direct funding.”

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One of the battles already won seems to be the Internal Market Bill, which will allow direct investment from the UK Government in Scotland, despite opposition from the SNP.

Mr Bowie said: “The power grab nonsense is not cutting through. It’s not going to go away, but it’s not getting cut through.”

Then there is Brexit, something the public has repeatedly been told is settled.

Following the resignation of former Brexit secretary Lord Frost, Mr Johnson has to tackle the Northern Ireland problem, issues in fishing and a lack of trade deals without one of his key allies.

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Mr Carmichael, the Lib Dem spokesperson for home affairs, political and constitutional reform, and Northern Ireland, claimed the year would see the “chickens come home to roost”.

He explained: “Whether it is on paper-thin trade deals which harm farmers, turmoil around our relationship with the EU or the perpetual stories of sleaze and self-interest, there is a growing crashing sound as the government’s rhetoric collides with reality – and voters are paying attention.

“Even now the Government is dragging its heels on financial support for business hit by the latest wave of Covid, risking a longer, slower recovery in the new year as the Tories and the SNP focus on slanging one another."

There will also be the continuing pressure over a second independence referendum, despite neither side being ready for one.

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SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alyn Smith claimed the Conservative Party had shown itself to be “incapable of meeting the moment”.

He said: “As the twin crises of the coronavirus and climate change continue to loom over us, this Conservative Government has been more preoccupied with organising drinks parties and fighting each other on WhatsApp than running the country.

“Lord Frost was the first to flee his sinking ship, but without doubt many more will follow him in the new year as, one by one, they slowly realise that their emperor has no clothes.

“With a weak Prime Minister unable to rule and a divided Conservative Party busy squabbling over his replacement, Westminster will have little to offer Scotland in 2022.

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“As the economic effects of Brexit continue to bite, I will be making the case for an independent Scotland in Europe, freed from chaotic Tory rule to secure our economic recovery within the world’s largest trading bloc.”

Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray predicted the year would focus on Brexit, the economy and the pandemic.

He said: “Of course there will be the constant constitutional dance around a 2023 indyref.

“Northern Ireland elections in the spring could collapse power sharing with a broken NI protocol.

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“And the economy will struggle with Covid still writ large, Brexit customs chaos in January, energy prices spiralling, inflation high and a cost-of-living crisis.

“Getting to grips with the ‘new normal’ as people don’t return to offices and restrictions in place will mean some sectors still very hard hit, and taking a long time to recover, will need support.

“[There are] lots of issues and we have the worst PM at the worst time to deal with them.”

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