Boris Johnson has resigned as Britain’s prime minister, bringing an end to one of the rockiest tenures for a world leader in modern times after a series of scandals rocked his government’s confidence in him.
Bowing to growing pressure as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street office Thursday to confirm he would resign.
Johnson said it is “clearly the will” of his Conservative Party that there should be a new leader, but will remain as British prime minister while a leadership contest is held to choose his successor.
“The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place,” Johnson said.
His exit marks a remarkable fall from grace for the charismatic Conservative leader, who just two-and-a-half years ago was celebrating an overwhelming election victory and the full backing of his party.
Johnson had vowed to move forward as prime minister after narrowly surviving a confidence vote last month that was triggered by shifting stories about COVID-19 lockdown-breaking parties in government offices — some of which he attended.
But that stance proved untenable after two of his most senior cabinet ministers quit Tuesday over similarly shifting explanations about his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal that dogged a recent government appointee.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other, costing Johnson the support of the men responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and surging COVID-19 infections.
Those two were then followed by solicitor general Alex Chalk, who also joined four parliamentary private secretaries, the Conservative Party’s vice-chair and two trade envoys in abandoning Johnson and resigning.
In their resignation letters, the cabinet officials both said Johnson’s credibility had been shattered by the growing list of scandals, with Chalk adding that public confidence in the government under its current leadership had “irretrievably broken down.”
Boris Johnson sidesteps questions on calls for resignation after top ministers quit
Johnson had proven multiple times to be adept at fighting off criticism and political scandal, dating back to his past roles in Parliament and as the mayor of London.
He swept into power as Conservative leader in 2019 after the resignation of Theresa May, and proved naysayers wrong that December when his party won the largest majority government since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. He then went on to finalize the country’s exit from the European Union, which had dogged May’s government as well as her predecessor, David Cameron.
But experts and even some Conservative MPs had suggested this week that the wave of cabinet resignations would be too much to bear.
The latest scandal began Thursday, when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past levelled against Pincher and questions about why Johnson promoted him to a senior job enforcing party discipline.
Pincher denies the.
Johnson’s office initially said he wasn’t aware of the previous allegations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a said Johnson knew of that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
But in a highly unusual move, Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020, went public with claims that the prime minister’s office wasn’t telling the truth.
McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.
“Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” McDonald wrote.
British PM British Johnson says he has no intentions of quitting
Hours after McDonald’s comments were published, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister had forgotten that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.
Then minutes before Javid and Sunak announced their resignations, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.
Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said, “I think it was a mistake, and I apologize for it. In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do.”
The shifting explanation from Johnson fueled discontent within the cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime minister’s denials, only to have the explanation shift the next day.
Johnson’s authority had already been shaken by last month’s confidence vote. Although he survived, 41 per cent of Conservatives voted to remove him from office. But until Tuesday his cabinet had largely stayed put and loyal.
Concerns about Johnson’s leadership were fueled by his responses to months of government offices about lockdown-breaking parties that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one levied against Johnson.
Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were badly beaten in two special elections to fill vacant seats in Parliament, adding to the discontent within Johnson’s party and suggesting the ongoing allegations were resonating with the public.
Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions were swirling that Johnson would soon face another no-confidence vote.
The existing rules require 12 months between such votes, but several Conservative lawmakers had suggested they support changing the rules in an upcoming vote on the issue.
— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press
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