Boris Johnson to resign as Tory leader but remain as prime minister till autumn

·6 min read
Boris Johnson to resign as Tory leader but remain as prime minister till autumn

Boris Johnson finally agreed to resign on Thursday after a massive Tory revolt less than three years into his tumultuous premiership.

The bombshell news broke shortly after 9am. Mr Johnson was expected to seek to stay on as caretaker Prime Minister to allow the election of a new Tory leader and successor in No10 by the party’s autumn conference.

However, some MPs voiced opposition to him remaining in Downing Street for any lengthy period.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson - In pictures

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted: “What a depressing state of affairs. So much needless damage caused. We now need a new leader as soon as practicable.”

Veteran Tory MP and former Brexit secretary David Davis said he is “not too bothered” about Mr Johnson possibly remaining as Prime Minister until later this year.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The simple truth, this is going to take a month or two.”

But George Freeman, who quit as science minister this morning, said that now Mr Johnson had “finally done the decent thing” he should “hand in the seals of office, apologise to Her Majesty, allow her to appoint a caretaker under whom ministers can serve, so the Conservative Party can choose a new leader properly”.

The timetable for the Tory leadership contest will be agreed between the 1922 Committee, which runs the parliamentary proceedings to whittle the candidates down to two, and Conservative headquarters.

But some MPs were wasting no time to throw their hats into the ring, with Attorney General Suella Braverman doing so while remaining in the post and urging Mr Johnson to quit, with leading Brexiteer Steve Baker saying he was also considering entering the leadership race.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, seen as a potential leading candidate, was cutting short a trip to Indonesia to make the 18-hour flight back to the UK. Other possible strong contenders include Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, his predecessor Rishi Sunak, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-health secretary Sajid Javid, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and international trade minister Penny Mordaunt.

Mr Johnson agreed to stand down following the resignations of five Cabinet ministers and more than 50 members of his Government in less than 48 hours.

Boris Johnson - In pictures

Shortly before it was confirmed that he was going, Mr Zahawi wrote to the PM, telling him to “do the right thing and go now”.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, education secretary Michelle Donelan and Welsh secretary Simon Hart had all joined chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid in walking out of the Cabinet.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, and Chief Whip Chris Heaton-

Harris, had also told the PM about the overwhelming scale of the revolt against him.

A No 10 source said: “The Prime Minister has spoken to Graham Brady and agreed to stand down in time for a new leader to be in place by the conference in October.”

Some “refusenik” MPs also declined promotion offers, making it clear that Mr Johnson would struggle to find enough people to form a full Government. The Department for Education was left with just one minister in the run-up to GCSE and A-level results.

With his Government in freefall, the Prime Minister this morning finally abandoned his defiant stance to fight on which saw him sack housing secretary Michael Gove last night.

Mr Gove famously knifed Mr Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016 by withdrawing support for him at the 11th hour, and himself throwing his hat into the ring.

The Prime Minister was vowing yesterday to “smash” on in No 10.

But he was urged by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to choose a “more dignified exit” than being forced out in a second confidence vote, with even loyalist Cabinet ministers such as Home Secretary Priti Patel encouraging him to stand down given the scale of the Tory revolt.

Seven ministers quit before 8.10am today. Mr Lewis was the first to resign shortly before 7am.

He was swiftly followed by Treasury minister Helen Whately, security minister Damian Hinds and science minister George Freeman.

Next were pensions minister Guy Opperman, then technology and digital minister Chris Philp and courts minister James Cartlidge. A short time later, Ms Donelan resigned. Party chairman Oliver Dowden had quit two weeks ago following two Tory by-election defeats.

Mr Johnson is the third Conservative Prime Minister to be brought down by Tory infighting in the space of six years.

David Cameron resigned on June 24, 2016, following the historic vote for Britain to quit the European Union.

Theresa May was toppled by Brexiteers and resigned on May 24, 2019.

They had refused to accept her proposals for Brexit which has so far damaged Britain’s economy and caused political turmoil in Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson won a strong mandate in the December 2019 general election, gaining a majority of 80 seats and successfully pushed a Brexit deal through Parliament.

His legacy will also include Britain leading the global race to vaccinate its population against Covid and his strong support for Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion.

However, his premiership was dogged by a string of controversies including former chief No 10 aide Dominic Cummings’s infamous Barnard Castle trip during the early days of the pandemic, the partygate scandal, funding for a luxury refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, with his response to the “groping” allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher proving the final straw.

Just weeks ago, he was suggesting he would stay in office for three terms, which could have beaten Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in No 10.

But his handling of the Pincher affair saw Mr Johnson haemorrhage support across the Tory ranks.

It followed revelations on Monday that the PM had been aware of media reports and allegations of misconduct involving former minister Mr Pincher but still pressed ahead with his appointment as deputy chief whip.

Downing Street had previously insisted that the Prime Minister had not been aware of any specific allegations regarding Mr Pincher, who had the Tory party whip removed last Friday amid claims he groped two men during a party at a private members’ club.

Even fellow Brexit champions were urging Mr Johnson to resign.

His ex-Brexit negotiator Lord Frost urged the Prime Minister this morning to accept the “game is up” and resign rather than inflict “very serious damage” on the Conservative Party.

Lord Frost said it was now “very clear” that the current Government could not continue as more ministers quit.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson should have quit “long ago”.

He added: “He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale.

“And all those who have been complicit should be utterly ashamed.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey added: “The idea that the Conservatives might make Boris Johnson caretaker for anything is frankly ludicrous.

“The man’s never taken care of anything in his life.”

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on whether the Queen has had any communication with Mr Johnson this morning.

The Queen is at Windsor Castle and the Court Circular recorded that she held her weekly audience by telephone with the PM last night.

The pound traded higher on the news of Mr Johnson’s resignation, up almost half a cent against the dollar at one point.

Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Nick Gibb tweeted: “As well as resigning as party leader the PM must resign his office.”