Boris Johnson Resigns in the Face of a New Scandal. This is a Messy End to A Messy Tenure


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LONDON — Bowing to intense pressure from his own party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said Thursday that he would step down, ending a stormy three-year tenure that was marked by a landslide election victory and a successful drive to pull Britain out of the European Union, but collapsed under the weight of relentless scandals.

On Wednesday night, Johnson insisted that he would fight to keep power. But only hours later, he gave way, overwhelmed by a mutiny in his cabinet, a wave of government resignations and a devastating loss of party support — all prompted by his handling of the latest scandal to engulf his leadership.

“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader,” Mr. Johnson said in a brief midday appearance outside 10 Downing Street. “The process of choosing that new leader should begin now.”

The decision was capped A dizzying 48 hours of British politicsThat began Tuesday evening with two unexpected resignations from cabinet ministers at the top of their ranks, and was followed by many resignations by other ministers throughout Wednesday and Thursday.

Prime Minister will be faced with a number of daunting challenges. These include double-digit inflation, labor unrest, and the possibility of a severe recession. These problems are shared by other advanced economies. However, there is evidence that Brexit has placed an additional burden on Britain’s economy.

And even with Mr. Johnson’s announcement, the fight over his status may not be finished. He indicated that he would stay in his job until a new leader for the party was found, which could take several months.

Some Conservatives, however, argued that Johnson should be removed from office as a caretaker. John Major, a former prime Minister, wrote to Graham Brady to request that Mr. Johnson give up his duties to Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister of the party, or that the party organise for a quick election of a leader by lawmakers to limit the decision-making power of rank and file members of the party.

Mr. Johnson made it clear he was leaving against his wishes, saying he had tried to hold on because “I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation” to continue the work he had done since 2019, when he led the Conservative Party to a landslide election victory on a vow to “Get Brexit Done.”

His announcement contained no acknowledgment of his own role in his downfall, casting it instead as a reflection of his fellow lawmakers’ attitudes.

“I’ve tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we are delivering so much, when we have such a vast mandate, and when we are actually only a handful of points behind in the polls,” Mr. Johnson said to an audience that included his wife, Carrie, who held the couple’s baby daughter, Romy.

“But, as we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves,” Mr. Johnson added.

Johnson stated that he expected Mr. 1922 Committee to determine the timetable and selection of a successor for Johnson. This powerful body, which represents backbench lawmakers from the Conservative Party, will make the decision on Monday. The committee will seek to install a party leader who will then become prime minister at the next annual party conference in fall. This is a time Conservatives hope to use to reset.

The two ex-Ministers of Cabinet who resigned on Tuesday in a shocking resignation are Rishi Sunak and Sajid Jvid. Other potential candidates include Liz Truss (the foreign secretary); Suella Braverman (the attorney general) and Nadhim Zhawi (who briefly replaced Mr. Sunak in the role of chancellor). There are two other outsiders as well: Jeremy Hunt who was a former foreign secretary and challenged Johnson for the party leadership in 2019, and Tom Tugendhat who is the chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Johnson’s downfall scrambles the broader political landscape in Britain, where the opposition Labour Party had seized a small but persistent lead in the polls over the Conservatives ahead of the next election, which must take place no later than January 2025. Labour politicians enjoyed relishing the chaos in the Tory Party, but they may be ambivalent about Mr. Johnson’s departure, as he is a polarizing figure and has lost much his vote-getting appeal.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said it was “good news for the country that Boris Johnson has resigned,” but added: “It should have happened long ago.”

The legacy of Mr. Johnson, who was the prime minister from July 2019, is complex. He left behind a history marked by his aggressive defense for Ukraine, but also domestic programs that seemed driven as much by policy considerations as by political ones. The prime minister’s staunch support of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has made him a popular figure in Ukraine, and reinforced Britain’s role as a key member of the NATO alliance.

“I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the government of the United Kingdom,” President Biden said Thursday, adding, “That includes maintaining a strong and united approach to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Putin’s brutal war on their democracy.”

At home, Mr. Johnson’s signature program, “leveling up,’’ which was aimed at elevating the economic prospects of Britain’s north, was marked by a notable absence of financing or a workable plan to execute it.

His hard-line stance toward migrants arriving at Britain’s shores pleased his conservative loyalists but drew condemnation from liberals and rights groups — most especially his recent Plan to send refugees to Rwanda from Britain.

But it was yet another scandal that sealed Mr. Johnson’s fate. The latest scandal involving Mr. Johnson was caused by Chris Pincher (Conservative lawmaker) who was drunk at an exclusive London club and allegedly groped two men. In February, despite previous complaints from Mr. Pincher about his inappropriate behavior, Mr. Johnson appointed him to an important party position.

At first, Mr. Johnson denied that he was aware of the prior complaints. But, later, it emerged that he knew about them and, on Tuesday, he apologized and admitted that it was a mistake that Mr. Pincher had been elevated to this position.

For many Conservatives, it was a scandal too far — especially as Downing Street had sent out others, including a cabinet minister, to repeat erroneous statements on its behalf.

With his support in the party evaporating, Mr. Johnson claimed that the party’s victory in 2019 gave him a popular mandate. Constitutional experts discredited this claim as a deliberate misreading of British system.

“Britain has a parliamentary not a presidential system,” said Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at King’s College London. “Johnson’s authority came as leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. But when the followers — Conservative M.P.’s — cease to follow, the leader ceases to lead.”

Johnson refused to give up, despite all the odds against him. Michael Gove was one of Johnson’s closest allies. On Wednesday, Johnson told him it was time to go. He then fired Mr. Gove from the cabinet post that evening.

The blows continued to come. Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary went next. Ms. Braverman, the attorney general, called for Mr. Johnson’s resignation and declared herself a candidate for his successor.

So many ministers or senior staff aides had resigned by Wednesday’s end that it threatened to disrupt decision-making across several government departments. Downing Street reported that Johnson was working at his desk Thursday morning to restructure his top team.

However, there were too many vacant positions and not enough loyalists available to fill them.

Early on Thursday, another cabinet minister, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, quit, saying that things were “now past the point of no return” and adding, “I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now.”

Six lower-ranking ministers also followed suit, including Damian Hinds, the security minister, and Helen Whately, the Treasury minister.

Johnson appears to finally have understood the message after even his own supporters turned against him. In less than 48 hours, Mr. Zahawi demanded the resignation of Mr. Johnson. Then the cabinet’s newest member, Michelle Donelan, who had been appointed to replace Mr. Zahawi in his previous role as education secretary, resigned from her new position.

Soon after, word came from Downing Street that Mr. Johnson had acknowledged what had been evident for some time — that his time in the building was coming to an end, and that he would speak to the nation later on Thursday.


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