Johnson struggles to stay on the job after top ministers resign


A defiant British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, struggled to stay in power on Wednesday after the resignation of two top ministers and a host of junior officials, who said they could no longer serve under his scandal-plagued leadership.

Johnson is known for his uncanny ability to bail out of tight spots, but a series of wrongdoing accusations have brought him to the brink, and some of his fellow Conservative lawmakers now fear the leader known for his affability could be an election drag. . .

Many are also concerned about the ability of a weakened Johnson, who narrowly survived a no-confidence motion last month, to govern at a time of mounting economic and social stress.

At the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament on Wednesday, members of the opposition Labor Party shouted “Come on! Come on!”

Then, more damningly, members of his own Conservative Party challenged the leader. Lawmaker Tim Loughton was the first to ask if there was anything that could lead him to resign.

“Frankly, the prime minister’s job in difficult circumstances, when you’ve been given a colossal mandate, is to get on with it,” Johnson responded.

His fellow Conservatives listened in silence, offering little support.

The interrogation was the first of two challenges Wednesday for the leader. He still must get through a long-scheduled questioning by a committee of high-level lawmakers later in the day.

The way he handles tough questions could indicate whether a simmering rebellion in his Conservative Party can muster enough force to topple him. Also on the horizon is a vote in a powerful party committee that could signal whether lawmakers are keen to push through another distrust measure.

Months of discontent over Johnson’s trial and ethics within the ruling Conservative Party erupted with the resignations of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other on Tuesday night. The two Cabinet heavyweights were responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain: the cost of living crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a scathing letter, Sunak said that “the public rightly expects government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Javid said the party needed “humility, grip and a new direction”, but “it is clear that this situation will not change under his leadership”.

Aware of the need to bolster confidence, Johnson quickly replaced the two ministers, promoting Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to chief of treasury and installing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.

But a spate of resignations on Tuesday night and early Wednesday by more junior ministers, from both the Liberal and right-wing wing of the Conservative Party, showed that the danger for Johnson was far from over.

In recent months, Johnson has been fined by police and criticized for an investigator’s report of government parties flouting COVID-19 restrictions they imposed on others; he saw 41% of Conservative lawmakers vote to expel him in a no-confidence vote; and he saw formerly loyal lieutenants urge him to resign.

Despite everything, he promised to continue governing, even suggesting that he wanted to stay in office until the 2030s.

But former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was among several Conservative Party members who told Johnson his time was up.

“It’s a bit like Rasputin’s death. He’s been poisoned, stabbed, shot, his body dumped in a frozen river and he’s still alive,” he told the BBC. “But this is an abnormal prime minister, a brilliantly charismatic character, very funny, very funny, great, great. But I’m afraid he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister.”

The last straw for Sunak and Javid was the prime minister’s shifting explanations of his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a top Conservative lawmaker.

Last week, Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief of the Conservatives after complaints that he groped two men at a private club. That set off a series of reports about past allegations against Pincher and questions about what Johnson knew when he appointed Pincher to a high-level post in party discipline enforcement.

Johnson’s office initially said it was unaware of the earlier allegations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson was aware of the allegations, but “they have either been resolved or have not progressed to a formal complaint.”

When a former senior Foreign Office official contradicted him, saying Johnson was briefed on a 2019 allegation that resulted in a formal complaint, Johnson’s office said the prime minister had forgotten about the briefing.

It was too much for ministers who have been sent on radio and television to defend the government’s position, only to find that it has changed.

Bim Afolami, who resigned as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party on Tuesday, said he had been willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt, until the Pincher affair.

“The difficulty is not in general the government programme. The government has done a lot of positive things that unite the Conservative Party,” he said. “The problem is character and integrity in Downing Street, and I think the people in the Conservative Party and the people of the country know that.”

But Paul Drexler, president of the International Chambers of Commerce, warned that skyrocketing food and energy prices are reaching crisis proportions and must be tackled by a leader who will not be distracted.

“I would say that the most important thing to do is feed people who are hungry,” he told the BBC. “I mean it’s a platform on fire right now. The poorest in our society are going to starve in the second half of this year. That needs to be addressed.”

Johnson’s opponents in the party hope more cabinet ministers will follow Sunak and Javid, though for now other top officials, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Interior Secretary Priti Patel, are standing by. they stay where they are.

Opponents are also trying to force another no-confidence vote on the prime minister. Existing rules require 12 months between such votes, but the rules are drawn up by a party committee and can be changed. Elections for the executive of that committee are scheduled for the coming weeks.

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