And this time it’s much worse than all the other times.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he could not “in good conscience” continue. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak also resigned, saying people “rightly expect the government to be run properly, competently and seriously”.
The immediate cause of the crisis was the fallout from the resignation last Thursday of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, amid allegations that he groped two guests at a private dinner the night before. Although he did not directly admit the allegations, Pincher said in a letter to Johnson that “last night I drank way too much” and “embarrassed myself and others”.
In an effort to draw a line under the swirling controversy, Johnson released a statement in which he apologized and said he was wrong to reappoint Pincher to the office of whip – who, ironically, is responsible for party discipline – earlier this year. But that was overtaken in minutes by the resignation of both Cabinet members.
The details of how Downing Street ended up in such a mess bear. At first, when new reports of Pincher’s historic conduct emerged in light of his resignation, Downing Street initially denied the Prime Minister knew anything about the allegations.
When it became clear that would not hold up, Johnson’s team said he was aware of the historical allegations, but they had been “resolved”. When it emerged that one of the previously unreported allegations against Pincher had been confirmed, Johnson’s spokesperson explained that “resolved” could mean it had been confirmed.
Regardless of any justification Downing Street has attempted to provide, Johnson’s judgment – and his handling of this latest crisis – is now in serious doubt.
“The biggest threat to this government is its own stunning incompetence,” a senior government official said. “Discipline is completely broken down.”
“The team around the Prime Minister seems to have no idea how serious the situation is,” they added. “No one is good at giving interviews. We can’t stick to one line. We’ve completely lost control.”
A government minister told CNN they believe one of the main issues is that Johnson is setting the tone for the behavior.
“It’s hard for someone with a personal life as colorful as his to berate people for inappropriate behavior,” they said.
The growing sense of chaos – and the idea that the government has lost control of another story – does nothing for conservatives who believe Johnson has become the party’s biggest electoral turnout.
But Tory MPs are beginning to lose hope that even if Johnson is removed from office it will not be possible to undo the damage he has done to the party before the next election due in 2024.
Even more worrying for those who have lost faith in the Prime Minister, he seems determined to keep fighting.
That worries Tory MPs, especially those in fringe seats who have all but given up hope of keeping them. Few believe Johnson has any real grip on the gravity of the situation – and they see no way to make sense of the prime minister.
The government’s mishandling of Pincher’s resignation means the scandal is now tied to Johnson personally. It was he who chose to appoint Pincher to a high-level government post – despite knowing how serious the allegations against him were and even though he knew that a complaint against him had been retained.
For years, Johnson’s biggest selling point has been his ability to connect personally with voters. His brand of optimistic populism was – according to Tory MPs – the force of nature that got the majority of the British public to vote for Brexit in 2016 and gave the Tories an 80 parliamentary majority in 2019.
But as Johnson’s government swings from crisis to crisis, its MPs now fear learning the hard way what happens when a populist loses popularity.
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