Defiant Johnson refuses to quit, fires Gove in fight back

Bloomberg | | Updated on: Jul 07, 2022
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking next to Britain’s newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi (R) during the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons in London on July 6, 2022..

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking next to Britain’s newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi (R) during the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons in London on July 6, 2022.. | Photo Credit: HANDOUT

In February, Johnson promoted an MP, Chris Pincher, to a senior government role despite knowing of a formal complaint into inappropriate behaviour in 2019, which angered his MPs.

Boris Johnson told Cabinet colleagues he will not resign as Conservative leader and prime minister, according to an official, despite a slew of ministers quitting and some of his closest allies demanding his exit.

In a dramatic move late Wednesday, Johnson fired a key Cabinet minister, Michael Gove, as Downing Street tries to show it is fighting back. The prime minister intends to fill some government positions as soon as tonight, according to the official. The pound fell 0.2% against the dollar.

Senior ministers including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had earlier told Johnson his time was up, after the resignations of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday set in motion a dramatic 24 hours in British politics.

Johnson’s defiance threatens to trigger more resignations. But the prime minister made clear throughout the day he had no intention of stepping down, telling the House of Commons he saw his mandate as coming from voters that handed him a thumping parliamentary majority in 2019. 

“The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when he’s been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going and that’s what I’ll do,” Johnson told MPs.

He will be calculating he can use the coming days to rally his remaining supporters, before potentially facing another ballot of Tory MPs on his position as soon as Tuesday. 

Tax cuts

An ally of Johnson said the prime minister would rather be dragged out of Downing Street, and that Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries were supportive of him staying on. The person said that removing Johnson would mean three months of chaos as the party picks a successor.

Newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi is working on a speech promising tax cuts and deregulation, the person said. 

But Johnson is still in grave danger after some big hitters in his government called on him to go, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The sheer volume of resignations -- around three dozen -- leaves vacancies that will be hard to fill from the back benches. More than 40% of his MPs opposed him in a confidence vote last month, and many more have changed their mind since then.

That vote theoretically left him immune from another challenge by Tory MPs for a year, but the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, which organizes such ballots, could change its rules to allow another one sooner.

Key Committee

Earlier Wednesday, Johnson gained at least some respite when the committee decided not to change its rules immediately, instead leaving the decision to a new executive, set to be elected on Monday. That will then meet on Tuesday to decide whether to change regulations to allow them to hold another vote on Johnson’s leadership. 

An ally of the prime minister said it isn’t a given the committee will change the rules, nor that it would call a second vote, and nor that Johnson would lose in the event of one. The choice Tories face, the person said, is between three months of a leadership election with the party tearing itself apart, and the prospect of Johnson and Zahawi outlining a new economic program of the kind the party’s MPs have been clamoring for.

Johnson’s position has been in jeopardy for months amid a succession of scandals including “partygate,” which saw him become the first sitting prime minister to be fined for breaking the law in office. 

But the anger of his MPs snowballed in the past week as it emerged the premier promoted an MP, Chris Pincher, to a senior government role in February despite knowing of a formal complaint into inappropriate behaviour in 2019.

Pincher quit last week amid similar, fresh, allegations, and Johnson’s failure to come clean quickly enough about what he knew and when about Pincher’s conduct drew criticism from across the party, with Tories openly questioning the honesty and integrity of the premier and his team.

Published on July 07, 2022
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