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9 July 2018

Boris Johnson’s resignation is the end of his career – will he take Theresa May with him?

The former mayor of London’s pull within the Conservative Party is not what it once was. 

By Stephen Bush

And then there were three: Boris Johnson has quit his post as foreign secretary, walking out of the government rather than support Theresa May’s proposals for a customs arrangement with the European Union.

It leaves the Prime Minister further weakened, having already lost David Davis as brexit secretary, in addition to Steve Baker, a junior minister in Davis’ department

Johnson’s departure is less of a body blow than Davis’, however: his gaffe-strewn tenure as foreign secretary has eroded his standing among MPs and he is less likely to take others with him than Davis. Of the remaining five Leave-voting cabinet ministers who joined Johnson and Davis at a meeting in the Foreign Office to plan strategy, Penny Mordaunt, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom have all publicly welcomed the appointment of Dominic Raab as David Davis’ replacement, while Gove and Leadsom have publicly defended the deal on the airwaves.

But Johnson’s departure could yet precipitate a further crisis. It increases the chances that May will face a vote of confidence in her leadership. Just 15 per cent of Conservative MPs (48 at present) need to sign letters calling for a vote to trigger one.

May’s allies believe they will easily see off a vote of confidence and in many ways Johnson’s exit increases the chances of her survival. Rees-Mogg and Baker are also pessimistic about the prospects of removing May, with both calling for policy, not personnel change. 

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Unlike Davis, who retained a measure of affection outside Tory Brexiteer circles, Johnson has become  a deeply divisive figure within the parliamentary party and is particularly disliked by former supporters of David Cameron, many of whom are determined to prevent him becoming Prime Minister no matter what. May has been handed a powerful message to win over those MPs in the event of a confidence vote.

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So it is far more likely that Johnson’s exit marks the end of the former mayor’s frontline career rather than May’s.