Boris Johnson pledges to carry on despite wave of Cabinet resignations

LONDON — With his support crumbling, his government in disarray, his alibis exhausted, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried franti...


LONDON — With his support crumbling, his government in disarray, his alibis exhausted, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried frantically to salvage his position on Wednesday, even as a delegation of cabinet colleagues marched to Downing Street to plead for their scandal-scarred leader to resign.

More than 30 ministers or government aides quit, several Conservative Party lawmakers urged Mr Johnson to quit, and he received a scathing reception in Parliament, where backbench MPs scoffed, ‘Bye, Boris !” as he left through a side door after a ruthless grilling over his handling of the party’s latest sex and bullying scandal.

On a day of rapid developments, Mr Johnson vowed to keep fighting, insisting he had a mandate from the voters to steer Britain towards its post-Brexit future, even as ministers rebels were trying to dislodge him.

On Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson sacked one of his closest advisers, Michael Gove, from a powerful Cabinet economics post. Earlier today, the BBC reported that Mr Gove had urged Mr Johnson to quit.

This dramatic moment was followed by the belated resignation of another cabinet minister, Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary.

Elsewhere in Westminster, lawmakers considered – then postponed, for at least a few days – a change to party rules that would allow another vote of confidence, possibly next week, against the Prime Minister, who survived such a vote just a month ago.

There was a growing consensus that however events unfold over the next few hours or days, the curtain was falling on the era of Boris Johnson. Less than three years after entering Downing Street, before riding a wave of pro-Brexit passion win a landslide election victoryMr Johnson seemed cornered – a protean political player finally running out of shots.

This does not mean that the end will come quickly or gracefully. Mr Johnson has resisted calls from the cabinet delegation to resign. He has not ruled out calling a snap election to cast his spell on British voters. Such a decision would require the assent of Queen Elizabeth II, which could precipitate a political crisis.

“The job of a Prime Minister in difficult circumstances, when given a colossal mandate, is to carry on,” a somber face of Mr Johnson told parliament, rejecting a fresh call for his resignation.

Opposition Leader Keir Starmer brushed it off, excoriating Mr Johnson and Cabinet ministers who have yet to ditch the Prime Minister after a seemingly endless stream of scandals. The latest chapter in this drama kicked off on Tuesday with the resignation of two senior ministers.

‘Anyone who quits now, having stood up for all of this, has no shred of integrity,’ said Mr Starmer, the Labor Party leader, glaring grimly at Mr Johnson. “Isn’t this the first recorded case of the sinking ship fleeing rats?”

For all the drama in Parliament, the real action on Wednesday took place out of sight, where Mr Johnson’s dwindling group of supporters and growing group of opponents maneuvered. Mr Johnson’s dismissal of Mr Gove was particularly blamed, as in 2016 Mr Gove derailed Mr Johnson’s first bid for the Conservative Party leadership by unexpectedly entering the contest himself.

The latest chapter in the crisis began on Tuesday when two senior cabinet ministers abruptly resigned: Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid. The trigger was Mr Johnson’s handling of a case involving Chris Pincher, a Tory lawmaker who admitted to being drunk at a private club in London where he was alleged to have groped two men.

Given the speed with which Mr Johnson’s government has collapsed, many Tory lawmakers believe Mr Johnson must be replaced quickly to mitigate electoral damage to the party. Even before the latest scandal broke, opinion polls showed the Tories trailing Labour.

The dilemma for senior party officials was whether to allow a quick no-confidence vote against Mr Johnson. Under existing party rules, there cannot be another such vote until a year after the last one – next June.

But leaders of the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Tory lawmakers, were ready to tear up their rulebook before: when Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May won a confidence vote in 2018, but then failed to push his Brexit plan through a deadlocked parliament.

According to Graham Brady, who chairs the committee, the proposed rule change was in his pocket when he went to meet the Prime Minister, but he never showed it to Ms May, who agreed to step down.

In a fast-track scenario this time, lawmakers would hold the vote of confidence before the summer recess. If Mr Johnson loses, they would move quickly to select two high-profile candidates to replace him as party leader and prime minister. The two contenders would then race in a final contest where the selection is by party members.

Tobias Ellwood, a former minister and Mr Johnson’s critic, said he had reservations about changing the rules but believed it would happen if the Prime Minister refused to go on his own. He compared a change of boss to a visit to the dentist.

“We postponed it,” he said. “You have to go to the dentist and get away with it – getting rid of Boris is that trip to the dentist.”

Moving quickly, Mr Ellwood said, would allow the party to use the summer holidays to organize the leadership election and give the new prime minister a platform at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in the fall. . It looked increasingly likely as the situation worsened for Mr Johnson on Wednesday, with more than 30 junior ministers and ministerial aides tendering their resignations.

At one point, five junior ministers resigned in the same resignation letter, including Equality and Local Government Minister Kemi Badenoch and Neil O’Brien, a minister responsible for Mr Johnson’s policy of “leveling up” of prosperity across the country.

Downing Street was unable to give a timetable for replacing those who said they could no longer serve Mr Johnson, including Treasury Secretary John Glen and his Home Office colleague Victoria Atkins.

Mr Johnson had moved quickly to announce the replacements for Mr Sunak and Mr Javid, signaling that he planned to try to stabilize the government. And he did his best to project a provocative image.

Faced with the prospect of another confidence vote, Mr Johnson could opt instead for a general election to be called, even if his party’s outlook is bleak. The Prime Minister has repeatedly reminded critics of his party’s landslide victory in 2019, when he vowed to ‘get Brexit done’ and beat a split Labour.

Constitutional experts argue the Queen could refuse to grant an election on the grounds that the Tories still have a significant parliamentary majority. However, rejecting such a request could be difficult for Buckingham Palace, which prides itself on staying above politics. Moreover, the Labor Party is eager for an election and would like to fight against a discredited prime minister.

But above all, there are the Houdini instincts of Mr. Johnson. Over the past three years, he has survived multiple investigations, a criminal fine from police and a vote of no confidence among conservative lawmakers. He may believe he can still escape.

“Unlike most leaders, he doesn’t care about the damage he does by stepping out,” said Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to former prime minister Tony Blair. “There is no one in our history who has had that kind of nature. Our system is not designed for something like that.

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