Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid announced their decision to quit within minutes of each other on Tuesday night, prompting renewed chaos in the Johnson administration and a wave of ministers and other junior officials to quit.
Some have called on Johnson himself to step down, and there has been speculation that if he refuses to leave, members of his party will launch a formal effort to oust him – less than a month after the last one failed.
The immediate reason for the resignations was the failed handling of the recent controversy, but it came against a backdrop of months of unrest in which police fined Johnson for breaching Covid-19 lockdown rules.
“The public rightly expects the government to proceed properly, efficiently and seriously,” Sunak said in his resignation letter, which he sent on Twitter. “I realize this may be my last ministerial job, but I think these standards are worth striving for and that’s why I’m resigning.”
“I am sad to leave the government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this,” Sunak added.
Javid wrote that “it was a great honor for me to play this role, but I am sorry that I can no longer continue in good conscience.” Javid added that last month’s vote of confidence in the prime minister was “a moment of humility, fist and fresh direction”.
Javid wrote: “I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and therefore I have lost my confidence as well.”
Ministers and other officials holding junior positions in the government resigned in the hours that followed, with more resignations continuing on Wednesday morning. Johnson moved to bolster his position, replacing his two cabinet ministers late on Tuesday.
Scandal after scandal
The latest crisis erupted from Downing Street’s handling of last week’s resignation of Whip Vice President Chris Pincher, who resigned from his post last Thursday amid allegations he fumed two guests at a private dinner the night before.
While he did not directly acknowledge the allegations, Pincher said in a letter to Johnson “I drank too much last night” and “embarrassed myself and others”.
Downing Street has struggled to explain why Pincher was in government in the first place, amid a flurry of revelations about his previous alleged behaviour, denying Johnson anything specific about the allegations.
On Tuesday, it emerged that a complaint against Pincher had been filed at the State Department about three years ago and that Johnson had been briefed on what had happened.
Minutes before Sunak and Judd announced their resignations, Johnson admitted it was “a mistake” to appoint Pincher to his cabinet.
“I have received this complaint. It was something that was brought up with me very quickly, but I wish we had acted on it and that it did not continue in government because it continued after that, I fear, to act, like as far as we can see – according to the allegations we have – very bad Johnson said in a radio interview.
UK opposition leader Keir Starmer said it was “obvious” that the government was “falling apart”.
“Conservative Cabinet ministers have known all along who this Prime Minister is. They have been his fans throughout this unfortunate saga. They supported him when he broke the law. And they supported him when he repeatedly lied. And they supported him when he ridiculed the sacrifices of the British people,” the Labor leader said in a statement issued after the two resignations. .
For months, Johnson faced a barrage of criticism over his behavior and that of his government, including illegal lockdown-breaking parties thrown in his Downing Street offices for which he and others were fined.
Johnson has faced several other scandals that have damaged his standing at the polls – despite winning a landslide 80 seats just two and a half years ago. These include accusations of improperly using donor money to pay for the renovations of his Downing Street home and flogging of MPs to protect a colleague who violated lobbying rules.
According to a survey conducted by Ipsos UK between June 22 and 29, Johnson’s Conservative Party is, by some measures, at its lowest level in more than a decade. Only 21% of respondents said it was “fit to govern” – the lowest number for Conservatives or Labor since Ipsos began tracking that metric in 2011.
The chaos in Westminster had a ripple effect on financial markets, pushing the value of the British pound against the dollar to its lowest level in more than two years.
Downing Street did not hesitate to fill the vacant positions. Nadim Al-Zahawi, formerly the Secretary of State for Education, has been appointed as chancellor, while Downing Street Chief of Staff Steve Barclay becomes the new health secretary. Michelle Donelan replaced Zahawi as Minister of Education.
The resignations of the two ministers prompted more minor figures to follow. Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Pim Avulami announced his decision to resign live on TV. During an interview with Tom Newton Dunn on Talk TV, Avulami said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister has my support anymore… the party or the country is supported anymore.”
One of the government’s top legal officials, Alex Chalk, who served as the attorney general for England and Wales, said in his resignation letter it was time for “new leadership”.
“Being in government means accepting the duty to defend difficult or even unpopular political positions as it serves the broader national interest,” Chuck said. “But it cannot extend to defending the untenable.”
The Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Morocco, Andrew Morrison, also stepped down, criticizing the “ongoing chaos of the past six months” and saying that Boris Johnson’s position “has become irreversible”.
At least six other junior government officials also announced their resignations later on Tuesday, and more resigned on Wednesday morning.
The prime minister’s allies insisted that he would continue the fight. But, adding to the sense of chaos, two other ministers resigned while Zahawi was interviewing BBC 4’s Today programme, considered one of the most popular morning programmes. When al-Zahawi responded to being told of the first resignation, the lieutenant colonel, Nick Robinson, interrupted him to tell him another.
Luke McGee, Sarah Dean, Luke Henderson, Lauren Kent, Dan Wright, Jorge Engels, and Maija Ehlinger contributed reporting.
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