British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting for his political survival on Tuesday when two top ministers in his Conservative government unexpectedly resigned from their ministerial posts in what appeared to be a coordinated move against their leader.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sajid Javid, the Minister of Health, have resigned over the recent scandal to raise questions about Mr Johnson’s judgment and veracity. They announced their decisions shortly after Mr Johnson apologized for appointing a minister, Chris Pincher, who last week resigned from his job over accusations of inappropriate behaviour.
The resignations propelled Mr Johnson to the most dangerous position of his three-year tenure as prime minister, after a series of crises that forced him to remain in a no-confidence vote last month.
Unless the party rules are changed, he cannot face another contest for a year. This means that resignations from the government could be the only effective way to pressure Mr Johnson to resign.
Johnson’s fate may depend on whether other members of his government decide to side with him, or join a rebellion that may make Mr Johnson’s position unacceptable. Although a number of senior ministers are known to be loyal to the prime minister, there has been doubt about others whose statements and actions will be closely watched.
If Mr Johnson can avoid more departures, it will improve his chances of survival. But more resignations would put enormous pressure on the prime minister and suggest the collapse of his government.
Even if the rest of the Cabinet remains loyal, Johnson faces an uphill battle to restore his crumbling authority. Even before the resignations on Tuesday night, Tory lawmakers were speculating the possibility of a quick change in the party’s rulebook that would allow a new vote of no confidence to take place before the summer recess.
So far, Johnson has rejected calls for his resignation, and in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, he appeared to believe an apology would stop his troubled MPs. Johnson admitted that it was a “mistake” to have Mr Pincher’s vice president whip given previous complaints about his behaviour. “In hindsight, this is the wrong thing to do and I apologize to everyone who was deeply affected by it,” he added.
But his critics believe they have heard similar assertions before.
“The public rightly expects the government to be properly, efficiently and seriously run,” Mr. Sunak said in a statement. “I realize this may be my last ministerial job, but I think these standards are worth striving for and that’s why I’m resigning.”
Pincher resigned as Vice Chairman of Whip last week after admitting he was drunk at a private members’ club in London where, according to British media reports, he groped two men. He was dismissed from the Conservative Party during an investigation into the allegations but did not resign as a member of Parliament.
On Tuesday, Downing Street admitted that Mr Johnson had been told of previous allegations against Mr Pincher in 2019 – something Johnson’s office initially denied.
The outrage over the circumstances of Mr. Pincher’s appointment – and the Downing Street account of him – is just the latest in a string of scandals surrounding Mr Johnson. Earlier this year, he was fined by police for breaching his own lockdown rules in Downing Street, where members of his staff were found throwing a number of alcohol-fueled parties.
In his resignation statement, Mr. Javid said he “can no longer, in good conscience, continue to serve in this government”. He added that the public expects “the government to proceed in a proper, efficient and serious manner.”
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