UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally been brought down like an injured wildebeest covered in ravenous lions. His Conservative party turned on him in a stunning display of mass resignations triggered by the latest in a vast list of sexual misconduct scandals.
Johnson has resigned as Conservative party leader following the sudden resignation of both his Treasurer and his Health Secretary on Tuesday evening. They sparked an unprecedented exodus of at least 57 members of his own government who resigned in the days and hours following over growing outrage at how Johnson handled allegations of sexual assault by his Deputy Chief Whip.
Chris Pincher (you couldn’t make it up) was accused of drunkenly groping at least two male members of government at a work function, with further allegations dating back years. Pincher resigned his position last week, but questions over how much Johnson knew about the man before promoting him to deputy head of party discipline reached fever pitch on Tuesday.
The PM initially denied all knowledge of Pincher’s history over several days before fronting cameras and stating that it was a “mistake” to promote him and that he was aware of the historical claims, however, he refused to step down.
Treasurer Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid both resigned within minutes of each other after Johnson’s apology, prompting a landslide of resignations in the following hours. The UK Government initially scrambled to patch the holes in the ship, promoting relative unknowns to high office, reports from inside the government suggested that there simply weren’t enough willing candidates to fill positions as fast as they were opening up.
At least 40 members had quit government within 24 hours, while Michael Gove, ‘Levelling Up Secretary,’ was sacked for telling Johnson the jig was up on Wednesday. Nadhim Zahawi — promoted just hours before to Treasurer — turned on Johnson, telling the man who just hired him that he can’t remain in power. Education Minister Michelle Donelan also resigned just 36 hours after being given the job, leaving the Education Department without a single MP running it.
For political nerds, this is better than Game of Thrones – and with a decidedly more satisfying end.
Prime Minister: this is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country. You must do the right thing and go now. pic.twitter.com/F2iKT1PhvC
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) July 7, 2022
The growing pile of resignation letters became increasingly cutting. Departing MPs lashed out at Johnson for his corrupt conduct, endless lies, and the damage he had caused to the queer community and sexual assault survivors because of the way he handled the allegations. Johnson’s Assistant Whip, Sarah Dines is reported to have told one of the individuals targeted by the unwanted advances that his being gay “doesn’t make [the issue] straightforward.”
Sunak, in his resignation letter, said that the public “rightly expects the government to be conducted properly, competently, and seriously.”
Mike Freer MP, Minister for Equalities, said in his resignation letter that the government was “creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people and I regret I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with.”
Johnson faced a hostile Prime Minister’s Question time in Parliament on Wednesday, with members of his own party openly calling for him to resign. However, the Member for Uxbridge, who has been in office since 2019, seemed resolutely determined not to vacate his position, saying that he would rather “get on with the job.”
Javid, the outgoing Health Minister, gave a lengthy resignation speech in Parliament in which he laid into the operations of government and put accusations to Johnson directly.
He said that “a team is only as good as a team captain. And that a captain is as good as his or her team”.
“It’s not fair on ministerial colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t stand up and don’t hold up.
“I do fear that the reset button can only work so many times. There are only so many times you can turn that machine on or off before you realise that something is fundamentally wrong. I have concluded that the problem starts at the top. That is not going to change. And that means that it is for those of us in a position who have responsibility to make that change.
Following Parliament, Johnson then faced a Liason Committee meeting, made up of MPs from all parties, to question government policy. This quickly devolved into a brutal group-chat rinsing, with one member begging Johnson “on a human level” to comprehend the damage he was doing to the country. Another actually tweeted his resignation while sitting opposite the PM. BBC News, who live-streamed the verbal beating, had resignations counter in the corner of the screen, slowly ticking up as Johnson was backed into a corner.
The PM then returned to his residence, Number 10, where members of his cabinet had gathered to force him out. Several claimed they would quit if he didn’t go, but only Gove followed through, being sacked before he could leave himself.
With Johnson’s heels dug in, it was clear that he would have needed to be dragged out of Number 10 kicking and screaming. The ruling Conservative party had recently held a confidence vote on Johnson’s leadership, which he narrowly survived. Party rules state that another no-confidence vote couldn’t be held for 12 months, however, the party indicated that they would change those rules on Monday so that Johnson could be removed.
When the situation was explained to him, with a confidence vote looming and assurances that he would lose the second one, Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday morning outside Number 10.
“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new Prime Minister,” Johnson said.
“I have agreed with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of our backbench MPs, that the process of choosing that new leader should begin now and the timetable will be announced next week and I have today appointed a Cabinet to serve as I will until a new leader is in place.”
The outgoing PM has spent the morning appointing a new cabinet who, as he says, will serve alongside him until a new leader can be found. There is suggestion that he may try and cling on to power until October when the Conservative Party conference is scheduled and a new leader can be officially elected.
Johnson leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. He has long resisted calls to resign, earning the nickname “the greased piglet” for his ability to wriggle out of controversy. Calls date back at least a year, over an endless succession of scandals including the Partygate incident in which it was revealed that the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet were partying it up during strict lockdowns in the UK. It was also recently revealed that Johnson had been trying to get his then mistress, now wife, Carrie Johnson, a six-figure position at the Foreign Office which was only turned down after another MP walked in on the pair engaged in sexual acts.
It’s been a wild ride in UK politics over the past 36 hours and the impact is likely to be felt for months, if not years, to come.