After abruptly losing the support of his ministers and the majority of Conservative lawmakers, scandal-plagued Boris Johnson announced on Thursday that he would step down as British prime minister. He added that he would continue in office until a replacement was named.
Johnson said it was obvious his party wanted someone else in charge but that his forced departure was “eccentric” and the result of “herd instinct” in parliament. As more than 50 government ministers and aides resigned and lawmakers declared he must go, Johnson bowed to the inevitable.
Close allies and Johnson’s wife Carrie were present for his speech outside his Downing Street office. Johnson said, “Today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place.”
“I’m aware that there will be a lot of people who are relieved and possibly a lot of people who are disappointed. Additionally, I want you to understand how saddened I am to be leaving the best job in the entire world. But they’re the breaks,” he added, refusing to express regret for the circumstances that compelled him to make the announcement.
Scandals that included violating COVID-19 pandemic lockdown guidelines, a lavish renovation of his official residence, and the appointment of a minister who had been accused of sexual misconduct brought an end to his term in office.
As he started speaking, there was applause and cheering, but some people outside Downing Street could be heard booing.
After fighting for his job for days, Johnson had lost the support of all but a small group of his closest allies after the latest in a string of scandals sapped their morale.
It was a brief, odd resignation speech that made no mention of the words “resign” or “resignation.” No apology or expression of regret was made, according to Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen. No apology was made for the crisis his actions caused for our government and democracy.
Details will be released next week, and the Conservatives will now have to choose a new leader, a process that could take weeks or months.
According to a recent YouGov poll, Rishi Sunak, the former finance minister, and junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt are the Conservative Party members’ top choices to succeed Johnson.
While Johnson stated that he would continue, his detractors and many members of his own party argued that he should step down immediately and hand over to Dominic Raab, his deputy. John Major, a former prime minister of the Conservative Party, said it was “unwise and perhaps unsustainable” for him to hold onto power while still able to use it.
According to Johnson’s office, he made it clear at a meeting of his new cabinet on Thursday that the government would not try to put forth new regulations or make significant changes to its course, and that important financial choices should be left to the succeeding administration.
If the Conservatives do not immediately fire Johnson, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer threatened to call a vote of confidence in parliament.
THE CRISIS IN COST OF LIVING
The economy that Johnson is leaving behind is in trouble. Following the pandemic, Britons are experiencing the highest financial strain in decades due to rising inflation. With the exception of Russia, major countries’ economies are predicted to have the weakest growth in 2023.
His departure also comes after years of internal strife caused by the close 2016 vote to leave the European Union, as well as threats to the composition of the United Kingdom itself from demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence in ten years.
The finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was just appointed to his position on Tuesday, was the epitome of how support for Johnson had vanished during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history when he called for his boss to resign.
On Wednesday night, a senior representative of the lawmakers who are not in the government went to Downing Street with Zahawi and other cabinet ministers to inform Johnson that the game was over.
At first, Johnson resisted leaving and appeared determined to stick around. In an effort to reassert his authority, he fired Michael Gove, a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he needed to resign.
However, it was obvious that his position was precarious by Thursday morning as a flood of resignations arrived, including Michelle Donelan’s, whom he had only named education secretary on Tuesday night.
Zahawi tweeted, “You must do the right thing and leave right away.”
Wallace and some of the others who persisted had claimed they were only doing so because it was their duty to maintain the safety of the nation.
Johnson started selecting ministers to fill open positions as soon as it became clear he would be stepping down.
Michael Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office division that oversees the operation of government, told parliament that “it is our responsibility now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government.”
FROM ADVANTAGEOUS TO DESERT
When the vivacious Johnson assumed office almost three years ago, he campaigned on a platform of delivering Brexit and rescuing it from the acrimonious wrangling that followed the 2016 referendum. He dismissed criticisms that he was unsuitable due to his narcissism, inability to handle details, and reputation for deceit.
Some Conservatives enthusiastically supported the former journalist and mayor of London, while others supported him despite their reservations because he was able to win over voters who typically rejected their party.
The election in December 2019 confirmed that. However, the scandals and combative and frequently disorganized style of his administration’s leadership exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers, and polls show that the general public no longer views him favorably.
The most recent crisis started when lawmaker Chris Pincher resigned from his position in pastoral care due to claims that he had touched men inappropriately in a private club.
Johnson was forced to apologise after it came to light that, prior to Pincher’s appointment, he had received information that he had previously been accused of sexual misconduct. According to the prime minister, he had forgotten.
This came after a string of mistakes over several months, including a damning report into drunken gatherings at his Downing Street residence and office that violated COVID-19 lockdown regulations and resulted in a fine from the police for a celebration of his 56th birthday.
Additionally, there have been policy reversals, an unsuccessful attempt to defend a lawmaker who violated lobbying laws, and criticism that he has not gone far enough in addressing the cost-of-living crisis.
Johnson outlined his accomplishments in his resignation speech, including overseeing the fastest COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Europe and completing Brexit. But he claimed that his attempts to persuade colleagues that changing the leader while the government was carrying out its agenda and there was a war in Ukraine had failed.
“I regret that I was unable to win those arguments. Naturally, it hurts not to be able to see so many ideas and projects through myself, he added.
However, as we saw in Westminster, the herd instinct is strong. When the herd moves, it moves, and my friends, in politics, nobody is even close to being indispensable.