Boris Johnson’s premiership was on the brink of collapse after two of his top ministers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid, dramatically announced their resignations, saying they no longer have confidence in the embattled prime minister’s leadership and cannot work for a government mired in scandals.
Chancellor Sunak and Health Secretary Javid both announced they were quitting in letters posted to Twitter within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening.
The ministerial exits will come as a big blow to Johnson’s leadership and follow a day of high political drama since a former civil servant spoke out about Downing Street’s handling of allegations against recently suspended MP Chris Pincher.
“The public rightly expects the government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” wrote Sunak, the 42-year-old British Indian minister.
“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,” he said.
It came soon after Johnson said he “bitterly regrets” giving Pincher a government role as Deputy Chief Whip after being made aware of a misconduct complaint against him.
“In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do and I apologise to everyone who has been badly affected by it. I just want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this government for anybody who is predatory or abuses their position of power,” the 58-year-old prime minister said.
In a lengthy reply to Sunak’s resignation letter, Johnson praised his achievements as finance minister over the COVID lockdowns and thanked him for his “outstanding service to the country”.
“I have enormously valued your advice and deep commitment to public service and will miss working with you in government,” his letter said.
Johnson later appointed Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He also announced that Steve Barclay will be replacing Javid, becoming the new secretary of state for health and social care.
Javid, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, in his resignation letter said, “We [Conservative party] may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest. Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither.” “The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership and you have therefore lost my confidence too,” Javid, 52, said.
Johnson’s reply to Javid was much shorter in length and said he would be “greatly missed”.
“You have served this Government, and the people of the United Kingdom, with distinction,” it reads.
It was followed up by a few other junior resignations, including Conservative Party Vice-Chair Bim Afolami — who called on Johnson to resign as he has lost the “support of the party and the country”.
Saqib Bhatti, parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to former health secretary Javid, has also resigned.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: “The Conservative party has always been the party of integrity and honour but recent events have undermined trust and standards in public life.” Jonathan Gullis, PPS to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, has also quit. He said for too long “we have been focused on dealing with our reputational damage rather than delivering for the people”.
Opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer declared that it is clear the government is “now collapsing”.
“After all the sleaze, the scandals and the failure, it’s clear that this government is now collapsing. Tory Cabinet ministers have known all along who this prime minister is. They have been his cheerleaders throughout this sorry saga,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lord Simon McDonald, who was the permanent secretary in the UK Foreign Office between 2015 and 2020, wrote to the Parliament’s standards commissioner saying Downing Street made “inaccurate claims” about Pincher – who resigned from the post of Conservative Deputy Chief Whip last week after admitting drunken misbehaviour.
In the wake of the resignation, the Prime Minister’s office said Johnson was not aware of any specific allegations against Pincher when he was appointed to the post.
“This morning I have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards – because No. 10 [Downing Street] keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth,” McDonald said as he tweeted his letter to the Parliamentary watchdog.
In the letter, he wrote: “The original No. 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate. Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation.
“There was a ‘formal complaint’. Allegations were ‘resolved’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’ is therefore wrong.” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab was asked about these developments on air on Tuesday and defended his boss, saying it was not his understanding that Johnson was directly briefed.
“In relation to the 2019 allegation or complaint [against Pincher], whilst there was inappropriate behaviour, it didn’t trip the wire into disciplinary action,” he told the BBC.
Pincher, who was suspended as a Conservative Party MP for Tamworth last week over allegations he groped two men at a private members’ club in London, says he is seeking professional medical support and has no intention of resigning as an MP.
The Opposition Labour Party said it was clear that Johnson knew about the seriousness of the complaints against Pincher when he appointed him to an important post of Deputy Chief Whip, in charge of party discipline.
“He refused to act and then lied about what he knew. Boris Johnson is dragging British democracy through the muck. His appalling judgement has made Westminster a less safe place to work,” said Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.
For months Prime Minister Johnson has been facing a barrage of criticism and rebellion over his conduct and that of his government, including illegal, Covid-linked lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street offices for which he and others were fined by the police.
Last month, Johnson survived a confidence vote, but the final count of his lawmakers who rebelled against him was higher than his supporters expected: 41 per cent of his own Conservative parliamentary party refused to back him.
Meanwhile, another senior Indian-origin minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel, has said she has no plans to follow her other South Asian origin colleagues out of Cabinet.
At the same time, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan have also expressed their support for Johnson.
Prime Minister Johnson won a vote of confidence in his leadership last month. Under the current rules of the 1922 committee, which organises Tory leadership contests, another challenge cannot happen for 12 months.
However, MPs could still consider options to try to remove him, the BBC reported.