UK PM Johnson quits after cabinet bloodbath

Boris Johnson resigned on Thursday as  leader of Britain’s Conservative party, paving the way for the selection of a new prime minister after dozens of ministers quit his government over 48 hours of frenzied political drama.

“It is clearly 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 outside 10 Downing Street.

The timetable for a Tory leadership race will be announced next week, he
said, after three tumultuous years in office defined by Brexit, the Covid
pandemic and non-stop controversy over his reputation for mendacity.

Johnson, 58, said he would stay on as prime minister until a replacement
is found.

He had fought hard against a cabinet revolt and said he was “sad… to
be giving up the best job in the world”, justifying fighting on in the final
hours to deliver the mandate he won in a Brexit-dominated general election in
December 2019.

“And let me say now, to the people of Ukraine, that I know that we in
the UK will continue to back your fight for freedom for as long as it takes,”
he added in his six-minute address.

Ukraine’s presidency thanked Johnson for his support in “the hardest

Johnson’s few remaining allies in the Tory party stood adjacent
alongside wife Carrie, carrying their baby daughter Romy.

The Conservative leadership election will take place over the summer and
the victor will replace Johnson by the party’s annual conference in early
October, the BBC and others reported.

– Contenders –

Defence minister Ben Wallace and Rishi Sunak, whose departure as finance
minister on Tuesday sparked the cabinet exodus, were among the early
frontrunners to succeed Johnson, according to a YouGov survey of Conservative
party members.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, another potential contender, said Johnson
had “made the right decision” as she cut short a trip to Indonesia for a G20

“We need calmness and unity now and to keep governing while a new leader
is found,” she tweeted.

But in the highly charged hours building up to Johnson’s announcement,
opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer had said the country cannot wait.

Starmer said “a proper change of government” was needed and demanded a
no-confidence vote in parliament, potentially triggering a general election,
rather than Johnson “clinging on for months and months”.

Even while eyeing the exit, Johnson had earlier Thursday sought to
steady the ship with several appointments to replace the departed cabinet

They included Greg Clark, an arch “remainer” opposed to Britain’s
divorce from the European Union, which Johnson had championed.

Shailesh Vara, who has never served in the cabinet, was put in charge of
Northern Ireland, with the government locked in battle with Brussels over
post-Brexit trading rules for the tense territory.

– ‘Arrogant and delusional’ –

Johnson had been clinging on to power despite a wave of more than 50
government resignations, expressing defiance late Wednesday.

But Thursday’s departure of education minister Michelle Donelan and a
plea to quit from finance minister Nadhim Zahawi, only in their jobs for two
days, appeared to tip the balance along with warnings of a new no-confidence
vote by Tory MPs.

Johnson triumphed in 2019 with a vow to “get Brexit done” following
Britain’s shock referendum decision three years prior. But for many, the
populist, convention-defying leader had outstayed his welcome.

The Conservative infighting erupted at a time when millions of Britons
are battling the worst slump in living standards since the 1950s, fuelling by
rocketing energy prices on back of the war in Ukraine.

Before the economic crisis, Johnson’s popularity had already slumped
over a series of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, which saw him
become the first prime minister to receive a police fine.

“About time, isn’t it? Seriously, I mean have you ever known anyone be
so arrogant, ignorant, delusional?” Helen Dewdney, 53, who works in consumer
rights, told AFP.

Referring to the departed cabinet ministers, she said: “Where was their
integrity months ago?”

While Johnson oversaw a successful vaccine campaign against the
coronavirus pandemic, the former journalist also oversaw one of Europe’s
worst death tolls, and nearly died himself from Covid in April 2020.

– ‘Point of no return’ –

“Boris Johnson’s legacy is the deaths of nearly 200,000 British people
on his watch,” said Lobby Akinnola, from the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved
Families for Justice.

“Whilst Johnson will move on to a life of writing newspaper columns and
being paid eye-watering amounts to give after-dinner speeches, there will be
no moving on for the families like mine that have been ripped apart by his
actions,” he said.

Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis on Thursday became the fourth
cabinet minister to resign and wrote that Johnson was “past the point of no

Johnson late on Wednesday had sacked minister Michael Gove, with a
Downing Street source describing his former Brexit right-hand-man as a
“snake” in the media.

Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid quit late Tuesday after Johnson
apologised for his February appointment of senior Conservative MP Chris
Pincher as deputy chief whip.

Pincher was forced to step down following accusations he drunkenly
groped two men.

Days of shifting explanations followed the resignation, before Downing
Street finally conceded that Johnson had known about Pincher’s behaviour as
far back as 2019.

Tory critics said the Pincher affair had tipped many over the edge,
angry at having to defend what they saw as more lies by Johnson over his
appointment of what Starmer called a “sexual predator”.

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