Boris Johnson has today announced his resignation in a speech outside No 10 Downing Street. A leadership contest will soon get under way but Johnson is expected to seek to remain prime minister until the autumn.
Johnson’s political career has ended in humiliation and a desperate attempt to cling to power. His support among the party had evaporated. Fifty-three ministerial resignations have left the country without a functioning government. Last night, a cabal of cabinet ministers tried to force his resignation but the Prime Minister stood firm. Instead, he hit back by firing Michael Gove as the secretary of state for levelling up.
Boris Johnson’s obsession with power has scandalised the Conservative Party. His failure to face the reality of his position in recent days elicited comparisons to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – the most pointed inversion of the PM’s desired legacy. Senior MPs will now look to unify the party and manage the transition of power.
Johnson’s downfall began with the departure of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak on Tuesday evening which precipitated a torrent of resignations. The unspoken edifice of authority that upholds any prime minister quickly dissipated. PMQs was followed by a statement from Javid castigating the Prime Minister and effectively launching his leadership bid. Johnson then appeared before a crack squad of senior MPs at the Liaison Committee clueless that his cabinet colleagues were waiting back at Downing Street to defenestrate him. Eight members of the government resigned in the time he was speaking and one committee member withdrew his support from the Prime Minister as they sat five meters apart.
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The 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers then met. The feeling, I’m told by someone who attended, was near unanimous condemnation of the Prime Minister. “I only counted five people who banged in favour of him,” the source said. Many Tory MPs felt sadness at events last night. Sadness that ministers they viewed as decent and competent were gone. Sadness at the soiling of the Conservative Party. And disbelief, from some, that it’s taken this long for their colleagues to wake up to the flaws of their leader. Another said: “It’s like putting down a horse you love.”
But ultimately, the overriding emotion was anger and disbelief at Johnson’s disregard for the constitution. “It’s all the PM,” a third MP put it to me. “It’s happened because he’s undignified and he’s selfish.” “He’s delusional,” a fourth MP said. The former Conservative chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, told me: “It’s an outrageously selfish act by a leader who disrespects his colleagues and thinks he’s a president not a prime minister. It will end very badly.”
Indeed, Johnson’s refusal to resign despite losing the confidence of his party, and therefore the ability to command a majority in the House of Commons, put strain on the constitution. In an exchange at the Liaison Committee, Johnson appeared to be considering calling a general election because he had a “mandate” from the people – as if Boris Johnson rather than the party where elected to government. Another senior MP dismissed concerns that Johnson’s actions directly threatened Britain’s democracy, but they admitted there was “a threat to the British constitution”.
The question now turns to Johnson’s successor. Last night’s announcement from Suella Braverman, the attorney general, that she would stand in a leadership election elicited a derisive laugh of disbelief from multiple MPs. Such a reaction points to an underlying problem for hopeful candidates: those who stuck with Johnson are marred by association. Penny Mordaunt, for instance, who has been whipping up support for a leadership bid, remains in her government position. And at least one MP told me that means they will no longer support her. Senior Tory MPs are considering running and at least one campaign team has been appointed.
Johnson’s scandalous nature and disregard for the rules have finally caught up with him. The past few days will serve as a humiliating stain on his legacy.
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