UK’s Boris Johnson struggles to stay in power after top ministers resign

LONDON –

A defiant British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was struggling to stay in power on Wednesday after his government was rocked by the resignation of two top ministers, who said they could no longer serve under his scandal-plagued leadership.

His first challenge is to make it through Wednesday, where he faces tough questions at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament, and a long-scheduled questioning by a committee of senior lawmakers.

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. In a scathing resignation letter, Sunak said that “the public rightly expects government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. … I think 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”.

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

But a series of resignations Tuesday night 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 on parties violating government lockdowns during the pandemic; he survived a no-confidence motion by his party in which 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to expel him; and he has seen 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.

The last straw for Sunak and Javid was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal.

The latest scandal began last week when lawmaker Chris Pincher resigned as Conservative deputy chief amid allegations that he groped two men at a private club. That set off a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher and questions about why Johnson promoted him to a high-level position to enforce party discipline.

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 that “were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

When a former senior Foreign Office official said that Johnson had been tipped off about an allegation against Pincher in 2019, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying that the prime minister had forgotten that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.

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

Bim Afolami, who resigned as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party on Tuesday, said he was willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt, “but I think in recent weeks we have seen that things have not improved. They have gotten much worse.

“I think Downing Street’s behavior on the Chris Pincher thing was really appalling. And I personally just couldn’t think I could defend that kind of behavior any longer,” he told the BBC.

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 powerful party committee, and elections for its executive are due in the coming weeks.

Leave a Comment