LONDON –

Two of Britain’s top cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday, a move that could spell the end of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership after months of scandal.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other after a day in which the prime minister was forced to acknowledge that he had to change his story about the way he handled the allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior member of his government.

β€œIt is with great regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue to serve in this government,” Javid said in his resignation letter. “I am instinctively a team player, but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government.”

Sunak said that “the public rightly expects the government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”

“I recognize that this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Johnson has been dogged by accusations that he didn’t come clean about a lawmaker who was appointed to a high-level job despite allegations of sexual misconduct.

Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief Thursday amid allegations that he groped two men at a private club.

Minutes before Javid and Sunak’s resignations were announced, Johnson said Pincher should have been fired from the government after an earlier incident from 2019.

When asked if it was a mistake to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson: “I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it. In retrospect, it was the wrong thing to do.”

The government’s explanation changed repeatedly in the last five days. Ministers initially said Johnson was not aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.

On Monday, a spokesman said Johnson was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct that were “resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

That account did not sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior official at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister’s Office was still not telling the truth. .

McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary standards commissioner that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a minister in the Foreign Office. An investigation confirmed the allegation, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.

McDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not formally filed.


THIS IS A LAST MINUTE UPDATE. The previous AP story follows below.

LONDON (AP) β€” A former senior British civil servant said Tuesday that Boris Johnson’s office was not telling the truth about allegations of sexual misconduct against a senior member of the prime minister’s government.

Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief Thursday amid allegations that he groped two men at a private club.

The government’s explanation changed repeatedly in the last five days. Ministers initially said Johnson was not aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.

On Monday, a spokesman said Johnson was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct that were “resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

That account did not sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior official at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister’s Office was still not telling the truth. .

McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary standards commissioner that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a minister in the Foreign Office. An investigation confirmed the allegation, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.

McDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not formally filed.

“The original 10 line is not true, and the modification is not yet accurate,” McDonald wrote, referring to the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street. “Mr. Johnson was briefed in person on the initiation and outcome of the investigation.

“There was a ‘formal complaint’. The allegations were ‘settled’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr. Pincher was not exonerated. Characterizing the allegations as ‘baseless’ is therefore incorrect.”

Hours after McDonald’s comments surfaced, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister forgot he was told Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.

The office confirmed that Foreign Office officials told Johnson about the allegation in 2019, “a number of months” after it occurred. His office said it took some time to establish that the briefing took place.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told lawmakers in the House of Commons that when Johnson learned of the problem in late 2019, he was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary steps and therefore , there was no doubt that Pincher would remain as minister.

“Last week, when new allegations surfaced, the prime minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident,” Ellis said. “As soon as he was reminded, the No. 10 press office corrected his public lines.”

The latest revelations are fueling discontent within Johnson’s cabinet after ministers were forced to go public with the prime minister’s denials, only for the explanation to change the next day.

The London Times published an analysis of the situation on Tuesday under the headline “Claim of lying endangers Boris Johnson.”

A month ago, Johnson survived a no-confidence vote in which more than 40% of Conservative Party lawmakers voted to remove him from office. The prime minister’s shifting responses to months of accusations about lockdown parties in government offices that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one imposed on Johnson, fueled concerns about his leadership.

Two weeks later, the Conservative candidates suffered a heavy defeat in two special elections to fill the vacant seats in Parliament, increasing discontent within Johnson’s party.

When Pincher resigned last week as deputy whip chief, a key post for enforcing party discipline, he told the prime minister he “drank too much” the night before and had “embarrassed me and other people”.

Johnson initially refused to suspend Pincher from the Conservative Party, but relented after a formal complaint about the groping allegations was lodged with parliamentary authorities.

Critics suggested that Johnson was slow to react because he did not want to be in the position of forcing Pincher to give up his seat in Parliament and setting up the Conservatives for another possible special election defeat.

Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions arose that Johnson could soon face another no-confidence vote.

In the coming weeks, Conservative lawmakers will elect new members to the committee that sets the party’s parliamentary rules. Several candidates have suggested they would support changing the rules to allow another vote of no confidence. Existing rules require 12 months between such votes.

Leading Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, a longtime Johnson critic, said he would support a change to the 1922 Conservative Committee rules.

“Mr Johnson has been sending ministers for three days, in one case a cabinet minister, to defend the indefensible, effectively to lie on his behalf. That cannot be allowed to continue,” Gale told the BBC. “This prime minister has shattered the reputation of a proud and honorable party by his honesty and decency, and that is not acceptable.”

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