Britain’s Boris Johnson is fighting for his political survival after high profile resignations and scandals

A YouGov snap poll on Tuesday found that 69% of Britons polled want Johnson to quit. The poll of 3,009 adults found only 18% wanted him to stay.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership is hanging by a thread after the resignation of two of his most prominent ministers and several other senior officials and ministerial aides in the past 24 hours.

Britain’s Finance Minister Rishi Sunak resigned on Tuesday night, saying the government needed to be run “correctly, competently and seriously”. Health Secretary Sajid Javid also resigned in protest at Johnson’s leadership, which has been plagued by controversy and scandal in recent months.

While a number of senior Tories have called on Johnson to step down, former government Brexit negotiator David Frost has also joined the fray, calling on the prime minister to step down without delay. In a newspaper column on Wednesday, Frost echoed other criticisms of Johnson by emphatically stating that “it’s time for him to go”, adding that “if he hangs on he risks dragging the party and the government with him”.

Despite calls for resignation, the prime minister shows no signs of being ready to step down. Last night he reshuffled his ministerial team to fill vacancies created by the shock resignations.

Several ministers have defended Johnson, expressing their loyalty to him. The main figures remaining in Cabinet are Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Chances of an early election

For now, the loyalty of key ministers diminishes the immediate prospect of a snap election in Britain. For that to happen, Johnson would have to resign or face another vote of confidence. As he only faced such a vote last month, a new challenge would require a rule change to allow another vote within the next 12 months.

“Current party rules state that Johnson cannot face another no-confidence vote until next summer. But the main risk now is either that those rules will be changed to force another vote, or that Johnson will be forced to resign voluntarily,” Allan Monks, an economist at JPMorgan, said in a note late Tuesday.

“Events could move very quickly, with a Conservative leadership race potentially putting in place a new Prime Minister in the next two months or so – ahead of the party’s annual conference in early October.”

Market response

The British pound fell to a fresh March 2020 low on Tuesday as political instability in the UK played out. Market reaction in the coming days will be closely watched.

“There’s a paralysis and there’s so much uncertainty as to exactly how this will play out,” Ben Emons, managing director of Global Macro Strategy at Medley Global Advisors, told CNBC on Wednesday.

“The way the markets reacted, somewhat negatively as sterling and UK gilt yields fell, but then recovered and I think that indicates that while there is uncertainty around Cabinet and Johnson’s position, it hasn’t crumbled, he still has support,” he said.

“We’re not going to see a snap election, they need to elect a new leader for that to happen, so I think the markets are reassured [the fact that] we are going to enter a period of uncertainty, but this uncertainty reflects the status quo, nothing will change in the economy or with politics,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

chain of scandals

The latest political upheaval to hit the UK comes after a series of controversies, ranging from the ‘partygate’ scandal with Johnson and several other government officials found to have broken pandemic lockdown rules, to allegations of slease – the latest of which involves Chris Pincher, Deputy Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, responsible for maintaining party discipline.

Pincher resigned and was suspended as a Conservative Party MP last week, following accusations he groped two men while intoxicated at a private club. It has since emerged that Johnson appointed him to the post despite being aware of previous misconduct allegations against him.

Johnson apologized for appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip, but it was too little too late with the high-profile resignations to come minutes later.

Johnson has survived a number of challenges to his leadership in recent months, as well as calls for his resignation, particularly following a deadly vote of confidence and the Conservative Party’s loss of two key by-elections over the past month as British public confidence in its leader wanes.

A YouGov snap poll on Tuesday found that 69% of Britons polled want Johnson to quit. The poll of 3,009 adults found only 18% wanted him to stay.

Among Tory voters polled, 54% said they wanted to see Johnson go, while 33% wanted him to stay, showing that Johnson has become an unpopular figure for many voters initially drawn to his leadership in 2019, when he won a whopping 80-majority seat on his election bid to “get Brexit done”.

Britain’s opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer tweeted on Tuesday that ‘the Conservative Party is corrupt and changing one man won’t fix this. Only a real change of government can give Britain the fresh start what she needs.”

Nadhim Zahawi, Britain’s new finance minister, told Sky News on Wednesday he was backing the prime minister and said “the team in government today is the team that will deliver”, but Ed Davey , the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, told CNBC that ‘it is clearly in the national interest for Boris Johnson to go’ and that Johnson had proven himself to be deceptive in the past.

“Having someone as UK Prime Minister who clearly does not tell the truth and who lies on an industrial scale, damages our democracy, damages Britain’s reputation in the world and damages our investments… We need a government that knows what it is doing.”

Johnson has been accused of repeatedly lying during his tenure, although he has always denied doing so, and has denied misleading Parliament over the ‘partygate’ scandal, which is being investigated is in progress.

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