British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation after a couple of hectic days when a mass of Cabinet Ministers resigned, and dozens of Tory MPs and former political allies publicly called for Johnson to resign. The Tory mass mutiny started on Tuesday night when cabinet members Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak tendered their resignations simultaneously. This move was followed on Tuesday by more than thirty government ministers. Although he tried to weather the storm, Boris Johnson announced his resignation in a moving speech on Thursday.
Johnson has been rocked by continuous scandals over the last few months. In 2021, he was fined by the London Metropolitan Police for breaching his own COVID-19 mandates when his staff celebrated his birthday. Although Boris managed to avoid more fines after the final police report was released, the scandal destroyed his popularity with the British public and debilitated his position within his party.
Not only did the controversy diminish Johnson’s standing among the Tories, but also the disunity within the Conservative party between those who favor a more libertarian economic policy and those who are pushing for more state investment in the economy. Last month, the Conservatives tried to oust Johnson as their party leader by invoking a no-confidence vote on the PM. Boris survived the vote, but almost 40% of his party voted against him.
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In the end, the biggest crisis in Johnson’s political life was the appointment of Chris Pincher as Conservative Whip, not the party gate. Pincher was accused of sexual misconduct and it was revealed that Johnson had known of the allegations against Pincher and still decided to make the appointment. Johnson apologized for the mistake minutes after, but it was too late.
How the Tory mass mutiny unfolded
On Tuesday, both Chancellor of the Exchequer (the second most important position in the British Cabinet) Rishi Sunak, and Secretary of Health Sajid Javid both announced their resignations from their posts. Sunak, who has been seen by many as a potential successor to Johnson, said that he resigned as a way to defend the public’s need for a government that is being run “properly, competently, and seriously.”
David, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer before Sunak, delivered a scathing speech during Wednesday’s PMQs (the weekly confrontations between the PM and Parliament) saying that Johnson himself was the problem at the center of the government and calling him to resign from office, saying that “enough is enough.”
Johnson remained defiant in Parliament, claiming that he was not going to quit and that he and his government are focused on delivering results for the British people. However, the long day for Johnson had not ended. In a clear attempt to force Johnson out of office, dozens of ministers and Parliament Private Secretaries announced their resignations in droves.
As resignations mounted, Johnson’s political position became even more brittle. According to news reports, a group of ministers and party officials went to 10 Downing Street and asked him personally to resign as his position was untenable. It is reported that among those who asked Johnson to go were Michael Gove (another crucial player in the government) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed as Chancellor by Boris hours before.
Johnson defiantly refused to leave office and sacked Gove from his position in government. The PM has said that he will “go on and deliver our mandate.” However, later that night the Attorney General, who has not resigned yet, said to ITV that she thinks Boris should go. She threw her hat in the ring of a possible leadership election to supplant Johnson.
What will happen now?
While Johnson tried to remain as head of the government at the end of Wednesday night, his political position became untenable. He had lost a record number of cabinet members and ministers in a single day, and rebel Tories threatened to change the rules of the 1922 Committee and force another vote of no-confidence. The game was up for the Prime Minister.
On Thursday it was announced that Boris would deliver a resignation speech in front of 10 Downing Street, where he defended his record as PM, and argued that he fought hard to retain his post as it was “my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019” but that it was clear that the party had lost confidence on him and that he must step aside until a new head of government is elected.
The dramatic crisis in Westminster has put an ignominious end to the astounding political career of Johnson, whose prominence rose after he was elected as the conservative mayor of London (a city that tends to vote for Labour) in 2008. Johnson became a fundamental player in British politics after he played a crucial role in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and his stature eventually allowed him to become the new Prime Minister in 2019. During this time, he commanded the Tories to the biggest electoral victory since the Thatcher years and ended the years-long deadlock over Brexit. Yet, less than three years after that electoral victory, he has been forced out of office by those same Tory MPs who gave him the keys to 10 Downing.