Boris Johnson says he will not resign. Why are his ministers resigning?

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in serious trouble – again – with more than three dozen members of his government stepping down in the past day.

Ministers and aides, including two senior figures in his cabinet, have said they no longer have confidence in his leadership after a series of scandals, the latest involving an ally accused of inappropriate sexual conduct.

But Johnson has vowed to stay.

Boris Johnson fights for political life amid party quits

Johnson came to power in 2019 on a promise to “deliver Brexit”. At times during his nearly three years at 10 Downing Street, as the UK Prime Minister’s office is known, he was popular with much of the British public, and even more popular within his Conservative party. – he secured a huge parliamentary majority for the party in a general election in December 2019. But since then he has lost public trust: in a new YouGov poll, 69% of Britons said Johnson should quit, and many members of his party agree.

So how did we get here? Here’s what you need to know.

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Senior cabinet ministers Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday, expressing a lack of confidence in Johnson’s leadership.

They appeared to have been bowled over by the latest scandal that engulfed Johnson and his government – involving allegations that the Prime Minister promoted Chris Pincher, a political ally he knew had been accused of misconduct, to a key post. of the government and then misinterpreted what he was aware of.

The resignation of a senior cabinet official is a big issue in British politics, and Sunak and Javid held particularly important positions. Sunak, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was essentially Britain’s finance minister, tasked with managing the cost of living crisis facing millions of Britons. Javid was Britain’s health and social care secretary, leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Both had strong words for Johnson in their resignation letters. Sunak said“The public rightly expects government to be run properly, competently and seriously. I recognize that this may be my last ministerial post, but I believe these standards are worth upholding and that is why I am stepping down.

He also hinted that Johnson was unwilling to be honest with the public about the costs of stabilizing Britain’s economy, which is facing runaway inflation.

In its own resignationJavid wrote that although Johnson survived a vote of no confidence last month, the Conservative Party was no longer demonstrating competence or acting in the national interest.

“It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership,” he wrote to Johnson, “and so you have lost my trust as well.”

Latest Boris Johnson scandal leads to top ministers resigning

What is the Chris Pincher scandal?

In February, Johnson promoted Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker, to Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Commons, a leadership role that involves ensuring Conservative Party members vote in line with the government’s legislative agenda.

But Pincher resigned from the post last week amid a scandal, with the British press widely reporting that he allegedly tried to grope several men while drunk in a bar. Pincher wrote in a letter to Johnson that he had “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people” at a rally.

Pincher had been accused of inappropriate behavior at least twice before. He resigned as government whip in 2017 after a Conservative Party activist accused him of making unwanted advances to her. And in 2019, after Johnson brought Pincher back to government, Pincher was again charged with similar misconduct.

But the key issue for Johnson centers on what he knew and when. At first, as the scandal erupted and Pincher resigned, Johnson’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister was unaware of previous incidents of Pincher’s alleged misconduct. Several cabinet ministers also came to Johnson’s defence, saying they had been assured he was unaware of the previous allegations.

Then Simon McDonald, the former head of Britain’s diplomatic service, posted a letter on Twitter accusing the government of misleading the public – a highly unusual move for a British civil servant. “Mr. Johnson was notified in person of the initiation and results of the investigation,” McDonald said.

Johnson’s office was then forced to backtrack, saying the prime minister could not remember the briefing earlier. In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Johnson admitted he was made aware of the 2019 allegation against Pincher and said he made a “bad mistake” in promoting it despite the complaints. “I regret it,” he said.

Will Boris Johnson resign?

Johnson says he has no intention of quitting. But it’s just the latest in a string of scandals Johnson has faced – though it appears to pose one of the biggest challenges to his leadership so far.

Johnson has come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A public inquiry concluded in October 2021 that the pandemic was “one of the most significant public health failures the UK has ever seen”.

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This was compounded by a series of scandals – dubbed ‘Partygate’ – over several Downing Street parties when lockdowns and social distancing were in place at the height of the pandemic. Voters described the actions as “betrayal” and many recounted the sacrifices they had made, including socially distanced funerals and restricted hospital visits, during the pandemic.

In April, Johnson was fined by police – making him the first sitting UK prime minister to break the law – for attending a birthday party during lockdown in June 2020.

He also faced allegations that he tried to secure a government job for his then-girlfriend Carrie Johnson (now his wife) when he was Foreign Secretary. And he has been criticized for the UK’s growing cost of living crisis

Allies began to withdraw support, with one condemning the “culture of the occasional law-breaker” in Downing Street. Last month he faced a vote of no confidence from his party – and while he survived, more than 40% of his Tory colleagues voted against him.

What’s next for Johnson?

Johnson has made it clear that he intends to stay on as prime minister.

And because he survived the no-confidence vote in June, he is safe from party challenges for the next year.

But the committee of Tory MPs in Parliament, informally known as the 1922 Committee, could vote to change the rules that protect Johnson from another vote of no confidence within a year. That would allow Johnson’s party colleagues to vote again, sooner, on whether to keep him as leader.

The committee is due to meet on Wednesday and could decide to elect new members next week. A new wave of lawmakers opposed to Johnson and determined to change the rules could tip the scales.

In addition to the fallout from the Pincher scandal, Johnson still faces a possible parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied to lawmakers over Partygate.

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Adela Suliman and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.

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