British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is losing the battle for political survival, as the slew of resignations that began Tuesday evening continue hitting his government today (July 7). Johnson will reportedly resign later today as leader of the Conservative Party but will continue as PM until autumn.
The development comes after two bombshell resignations arrived Tuesday within minutes of each other from Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, two of the key ministers in the cabinet. At the time of publishing, a record 57 ministers had resigned from the UK cabinet, and more were joining the growing chorus for Johnson’s resignation.
Sunak resigned as chancellor of the exchequer, alongside Javid who resigned as health secretary on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, children and families minister Will Quince followed suit with Laura Trott as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Transport. By noon, ministers John Glen and Victoria Atkins had quit in an enormous backlash to Johnson’s handling of the sexual misconduct allegations against one of the ministers who has now resigned. Nadim Zahawi and Steve Barclay have since taken over as Chancellor and Health Secretary.
The latest resignations arrived this morning with Brandon Lewis quitting as Northern Ireland Secretary. He was shortly followed by Helen Whately, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, Damien Hinds, security minister and George Freeman as science minister. Yesterday, Johnson sacked Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove after he urged him to resign.
The fresh political crisis comes close on the heels of a sex scandal involving Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher who was a minister in Johnson’s government. Pincher quit last week after accusations that he groped two men in a drunken state, and other similar allegations surfaced against him. The scandal turned out to be even more embarrassing for the Johnson government as information was made public that the prime minister had prior knowledge of Pincher’s sexual misconducts at the time of appointing him as a minister in his cabinet.
A controversial prime minister, Johnson’s reign has been marred by various scandals, including his reported violations of Covid-19 lockdown regulations. The scandal over the past week raised questions again about his credibility and personal ethics as someone presiding over UK’s top job. Barely a month ago, scandals landed him a no-confidence vote by his fellow Conservative lawmakers which he scraped through.
Commentators say the unfolding developments aren’t merely a flash reaction to the Pincher scandal but the culmination of the growing friction between the prime minister and his ministers for quite some time. The timing of the resignations that have followed since Tuesday evening seems to indicate a pre-planned move in a show of no-confidence in Johnson’s leadership. The trouble has precipitated more on account of the cost-of-living crisis and a tax rise engulfing Britain. Inflation has risen sharply in 2022, to the current rate of 9.1 percent.
Corruption and criticism around lack of vision have also contributed to Johnson’s undoing. In October 2021, a House of Commons committee recommended a 30-day suspension for then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson for breaking lobbying rules and acting for the benefit of companies who paid him. Besides, after winning a thumping majority for Brexit, Johnson has been accused of doing little else during his time as prime minister.
In any case, the developments come at the most inopportune time for the UK. "Sunak’s departure from the government is a sad affair not because he was applauded for his leadership during the pandemic, especially the furlough scheme which saved jobs of many employees, but because the UK is now facing perhaps one of its (most) challenging economic crises. His resignation letter refers to that and warns the British public of the tough times ahead," Dr Arun Kumar, Assistant Professor in British Imperial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial History at University of Nottingham said.
The resignation letters are interesting and point to an escalating rift within the Conservative party government over Johnson’s leadership. In the resignation letter which Sunak later shared on Twitter, the former minister stressed on the standards of competence, honesty and integrity for anyone running the government, a veiled comment on Johnson’s leadership. "The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently, and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning," Sunak tweeted. Sunak also indicated the "compromise" he made to deliver on Johnson’s goals but indicated the prime minister and the chancellor were no longer united.
Sajid Javid’s letter reasoned that British people deserved integrity from their government, and he could "no longer continue serving in this government". "The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country. Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision makers, guided by strong values. We may not always have been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest. Sadly, in current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither," he wrote.
Other resignation letters outlined the importance of good values, trust, and integrity in the government which they found lacking and have therefore resigned indicating plummeting faith in the government by leaders within the Conservative party. The unbridled political developments have thrown the UK in greater turmoil.
"While the world is battling the effects of the Covid and the Russia-Ukraine war, the UK economy, in addition, is adjusting to the Brexit effects with its exports falling and imports increasing in the first quarter of 2022. Sunak's cryptic letter suggests that he has left the position with quite dissatisfaction as his views differed from Boris Johnson’s over the handling of the economy. All this leaves an already struggling UK economy in a greater political turmoil," University of Nottingham Assistant Professor Kumar adds.
While prime minister Johnson seemed to retain the support of several of his colleagues until Wednesday morning, other Conservative MPs were quick to join the no-confidence wave against him. Johnson earlier seemed to be in no mood to relent. He is reported to have said: "The job of a PM in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going. That’s what I’m going to do.”In less than a day, the colossal mandate has collapsed. Johnson can no longer keep going.