Boris Johnson is losing his magic. Corruption, erratic crisis management and most recently the “Partygate” affair: nothing seemed to be able to harm the British prime minister. The conservative head of government was seen as a winner. But that is over now. Britain falls into a government crisis.
Amidst sharp criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid have resigned. In his letter of resignation published on Tuesday evening, Javid wrote that he had lost confidence in the head of government. They are now demanding the same from Johnson.
Several state secretaries had already resigned on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Secretary of State for Family and Children Will Quince and Deputy Secretary of State for Transport Laura Trott submitted their resignations. Johnson also loses the Attorney General for England and Wales. British MP Alex Chalk also resigned on Tuesday in protest at Johnson’s governance.
“At a time when our country is facing great challenges, when trust in government has rarely been so important, sadly the time has come for new leadership,” the government’s chief legal adviser said in his letter of resignation on the night of Wednesday on Twitter with.
He cited the Partygate scandal and the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a member of the government as reasons. “Being part of government means accepting a duty to advocate for difficult or even unpopular political positions when doing so serves the broader national interest. But it cannot extend to defending the untenable.”
It was “clear that this government is collapsing now,” wrote opposition leader Keir Starmer of the Labor Party in a first reaction to the resignations of Sunak and Javid: “The Tory party is corrupt and it will fix nothing but one man exchange.” What the country needs are quick new elections.
The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday reported the harsh words of an MP who had always defended Johnson in his almost three years in office. “I’m screwed if I ever do that again.” That sentiment has become fairly common among Conservatives.
The Tories are in an “open war”, commented the broadcaster Sky News on Wednesday night. The BBC quoted an anonymous MP as saying he even heard the “smell of death” in London’s Westminster precinct.
“Conservative MPs have finally lost patience with their leader, who is rapidly becoming a contemptible figure for voters,” said political scientist Mark Garnett from the University of Lancaster to the German Press Agency in London. The expert suspects that Johnson’s party will now do everything in its power to get rid of its boss.
Since Johnson only recently survived an internal party no-confidence vote, he is actually immune to a new motion to vote out for a year. But the rebels could change the rules as early as next week. That would mean another vote before Parliament’s summer break, says Garnett.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve warned the party would be “destroyed” if Johnson didn’t go. “A majority in the party wants a change,” MP Chris Loder told BBC Radio 4. The opposition is vehemently demanding new elections. She is ahead in the polls.
The Pincher affair was the last straw for former ministers Sunak and Javid, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, one of Johnson’s harshest critics, told Sky News. “It’s time for Boris to go. He can delay that for a few more hours if he wants. But I and a large part of the party are now determined that he has to be gone by the summer break: the sooner the better.”
Johnson’s remaining allies say the prime minister is belligerent. “Fuck it,” he is said to have replied when asked about his resignation, the Times reported. Political scientist Garnett predicted: “His party will have to drag him out of Downing Street.” A former Johnson adviser told the online portal “Politico” that the Prime Minister could run a “scorched earth policy” and drag others into the abyss .
Tory rebel Andrew Mitchell on the BBC compared Johnson to legendary Russian tsarist adviser Rasputin, who is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts. “He was poisoned, stabbed, shot, his body thrown into a freezing river – and he’s still alive.”
Johnson’s critics have great respect for the “Boris cult”. The prime minister is seen by many conservatives as the only candidate to win elections. In addition, there is still no obvious successor in sight, said expert Garnett. After his resignation, former finance minister Sunak is once again seen as the most promising candidate. His successor Nadhim Zahawi and Foreign Minister Liz Truss are also said to have ambitions.
However, both demonstratively backed the prime minister.
The ministerial resignations come minutes after Johnson apologized in the evening for appointing a representative of his Conservative Tory party suspected of sexual harassment as Deputy Secretary of Parliament.
Deputy CEO Chris Pincher resigned late last week after sexually harassing two men. It became known that there had been allegations against him in the past.
In his resignation letter to Johnson, Treasury Secretary Sunak wrote that the public “rightly expects the government to be run properly, competently and seriously”. “I believe those standards are worth fighting for and that’s why I’m resigning.” Javid told Johnson the situation would not change under his leadership.
Under Johnson’s leadership, the Conservative Party is not viewed by the public as value-led, nor does it serve the national interest. Even after the party-internal vote of no confidence, which Johnson narrowly won recently, the prime minister did not initiate a change of course. “It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership,” Javid wrote.
Finance Minister Sunak stressed that he had always been loyal to Johnson. “But the public rightly expects the government to act correctly, competently and seriously.” The broadcaster Sky News quoted an unnamed member of the government as saying that Johnson was now almost impossible to keep in office.
The new finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, defended Johnson. The conservative head of government is of integrity and “determined to deliver,” Zahawi told Sky News on Wednesday. Johnson has apologized for appointing Pincher to a senior parliamentary position despite being aware of allegations of sexual harassment.
Former education minister Zahawi was appointed finance minister on Tuesday evening. Johnson also appointed his former chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.
A government spokesman initially denied that Johnson knew about the old allegations against Pincher. That line of defense collapsed on Tuesday after a senior former official said Johnson had been briefed on an incident in 2019. Opposition MPs and some Tories then accused the prime minister of lying.
“I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it,” Johnson told reporters about Pincher’s appointment that evening. “In retrospect, it was wrong to do that.”
The ruling party has been shaken by a series of scandals in recent months. In mid-May, a member of parliament was temporarily arrested on suspicion of rape. Also in May, a former Tory MP was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for sexually abusing a minor. At the end of April, a member of parliament resigned after watching porn videos on his mobile phone in parliament.
In addition, there is the scandal surrounding alcohol-fueled parties at the seat of government during the corona lockdown, which brought Prime Minister Johnson an internal party vote of no confidence. The prime minister barely survived the vote in early June. At that time, Minister of Health Javid had publicly backed the head of government.
Now, Javid wrote that after surviving the no-confidence vote, Johnson had an opportunity to show “humility, determination and new leadership.” But now he realized “that the situation will not change under your leadership, and you have that’s why I lost my trust”.
Johnson’s appearance in the parliamentary committee is planned for Wednesday (4 p.m. CEST). The traditional questioning before the so-called Liaison Committee in the House of Commons is one of the highlights of the year in the British Parliament. On no other occasion does the head of government have so few opportunities to avoid uncomfortable questions. The event is therefore also referred to as “grilling”.
With the internal vote of no confidence, Johnson wanted to put the “Partygate” affair about illegal lockdown celebrations in Downing Street behind him. The prime minister personally had to pay a fine for attending one of the parties. Contrary to the expectations of critics within the party, he remained in office.