- Cabinet ministers resigned en masse and told him to go
- Johnson bows after wave of scandals
- Strives to stay on until successor is named, many now want him out
- Combatant, chaotic approach to governing the alienated many
- UK economy slumps due to cost of living crisis
LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) – Scandal-ridden Boris Johnson announced on Thursday that he would step down as British Prime Minister after dramatically losing support from his ministers and most Conservative lawmakers, but said he would stay until his successor was chosen.
Bowing to the inevitable as more than 50 ministers resigned and lawmakers told him to go, an isolated and impotent Johnson said it was clear his party wanted someone else in charge.
“Today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is appointed,” Johnson said outside his Downing Street office, where his speech was watched by close allies and his wife Carrie.
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“I know there will be a lot of people who will be relieved and maybe a lot of people who will be disappointed too. And I want you to know how sad I am to give up the best job in the world. But those are the breaks.”
Johnson did not apologize for the events leading up to his announcement, saying his forced departure was “eccentric”.
There were cheers and applause as he began his speech, with cheers from some outside the gates of Downing Street.
After fighting for his job for days, Johnson had been abandoned by nearly a handful of his closest allies after the latest in a string of scandals broke their willingness to support him.
Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process that could take weeks or months, details of which will be announced next week. read more
A quick YouGov poll found that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was the favorite among Conservative Party members to replace Johnson, followed by Deputy Commerce Secretary Penny Mordaunt and former Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak.
While Johnson said he would stay, opponents and many in his own party said he should leave immediately and hand it over to his deputy, Dominic Raab.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor party, said he would hold a confidence vote in parliament if the Conservatives did not remove Johnson immediately. read more
“We cannot continue with this prime minister clinging on for months and months,” he said.
The crisis comes as Britons face the worst strain on their finances in decades in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with inflation soaring, and the economy expected to be the weakest of the major economies. countries in 2023, excluding Russia.
It also follows years of internal divisions fueled by the narrow vote in 2016 to leave the European Union, and threats to the UK’s own constitution with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.
Support for Johnson had evaporated during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, epitomized by Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed to his post only on Tuesday and called on his boss to resign.
Zahawi and other ministers went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, along with a senior legislator who was not in government, to tell Johnson the game was over.
Initially, Johnson refused to go and appeared to go out of his way to fire Michael Gove – a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he should resign – in an effort to reassert his authority.
But by Thursday morning, with a slew of layoffs pouring in, it became clear that his position was untenable.
“You have to do the right thing and go now,” Zahawi tweeted.
Some of those who remained in office, including Wallace, said they only did so because they had a duty to keep the country safe.
There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was paralyzed. Despite his imminent departure, Johnson began appointing ministers to vacant posts.
“It is now our duty to ensure that the people of this country have a functioning government,” Michael Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office department that oversees the government, told parliament.
FROM POPULAR TO ABANDONED
The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, pledging to make Brexit a reality and rescue it from the bitter bickering that followed the 2016 referendum. He brushed aside the concerns of some that his narcissism, lack of detail and a reputation for deceit made him unfit.
Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically supported the former journalist and mayor of London, while others, despite reservations, supported him because he could appeal to segments of the electorate that their party used to reject.
That was evident in the December 2019 elections. But his government’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a string of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers, while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the general public.
The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role in pastoral care, was forced to quit over charges of groping men in a private club.
Johnson had to apologize after it was revealed that he had been informed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before hiring him. The Prime Minister said he had forgotten.
This followed months of scandal and missteps, including a damning report of drunken parties at his Downing Street home and office breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules and getting him a fine from the police for a rally ahead of his 56th birthday.
There have also been policy changes, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who has broken lobbying rules, and criticism that he hasn’t done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons grappling with rising fuel and food prices.
In his resignation speech, Johnson highlighted his successes – from completing Brexit to ensuring the fastest rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Europe. But he said his efforts to convince colleagues that changing leadership while Ukraine was at war and the government was carrying out its agenda had failed.
“I’m sorry I didn’t succeed in those arguments. And of course it’s painful not being able to see through so many ideas and projects on my own,” he said.
“But as we saw in Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful – when the herd moves, it moves and, my friends, in politics no one is remotely indispensable.”
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Additional reporting by William James, Kylie MacLellan, Andrew MacAskill, Alistair Smout, William Schomberg, Muvija M, Farouq Suleiman, and Sachin Ravikumar; Written by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper; Edited by Kate Holton, Frank Jack Daniel, Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich
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