Boris Johnson is battling to stay in office, amid a growing wave of resignations from his government in protest at his leadership.
Johnson has vowed to cling on to power, however, quickly appointing two replacements after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced their resignations from his government on Tuesday. But a string of further resignations on today has left the already vulnerable prime minister hanging onto power by a thread, with some lawmakers in his own Conservative Party even suggesting that the rules would have to be changed in order to remove him from office.
A long time coming
Controversy has long followed Johnson during his time in office. In recent months, the scandal over “Partygate” and the number of illegal gatherings held at Number 10 Downing Street and other government residences while the country was under lockdown throughout 2020 brought his premiership under the microscope.
Johnson himself was issued a fine by the Metropolitan Police for attending a birthday gathering held in his honour, at a time when indoor mixing was illegal to stem the spread of COVID-19, becoming the first prime minister in British history to have been found to have broken the law while in office. He then survived a “no-confidence vote” brought forward by disgruntled lawmakers in his Conservative Party, which left him wounded politically but still in charge.
Surviving the vote meant he was immune from facing a similar challenge for at least a year.
However, the latest scandal to arise concerns the personal conduct of a minister in his government, one of his appointees, the Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher.
Last week, Pincher offered his resignation from the Conservative Party whips’ office after he was accused of drunkenness and sexual misconduct at a bar in the presence of colleagues. News then emerged in the British media that Pincher had previously faced complaints, which were upheld, about similar conduct, but Downing Street denied Johnson was aware of the complaints.
This, however, turned out to be false, as further information came out that Johnson had been briefed about Pincher’s conduct in 2019, before he was rehired.
In a raucous House of Commons today, Johnson defended his record in government amidst the crisis which threatens to end his premiership admits more calls for him to go.
How could Boris Johnson go?
In reality, there aren’t many routes out for the Prime Minister. Here are the ways he could go
- If party bosses change the one-year rule on leadership challenges, rebel Tory MPs could try again to oust him later this summer, or in the autumn
- If Mr Johnson lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, he would have to resign or call an election
- Otherwise, he would have to resign himself – possibly in the face of cabinet pressure, like Margaret Thatcher – or after a fresh wave of ministerial resignations
He may last a day, a week or even a month. But his reign is over.
Johnson has been prime minister for 1077 days – bringing him almost level with Neville Chamberlain’s 1078 days in office.
It’s a comparison he would not take kindly to, although one backbench MP recently referenced the wartime leader when calling on Johnson to quit by repeating the lines Tory MP Leo Amery once said to Chamberlain.
“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing,” former trade secretary David Davis said, himself quoting Cromwell. “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
Too much of Johnson’s past year has been engulfed in a bonfire of sleaze, blame-shifting, lies and deception.
The final straw for his now-former chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid – the prime minister’s deceit over the promotion of a man he knew had a history of drunken sexual harassment to deputy chief whip – was ultimately part of a wider pattern.
Confronted with a problem that appeared to reflect badly on his judgment, once again Johnson sought to cover up and conceal in an attempt to avoid confronting the situation.
All Johnson’s missteps have basically been the same offence: a complete disregard for the ethics that come with his office.