Why Boris Johnson’s ministers are resigning and what can happen next

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in serious trouble – again – with more than 40 members of his government retiring in the past two days.

Ministers and aides, including high-ranking members of his cabinet, say they no longer trust his leadership after a series of scandals, most recently involving an ally accused of wrongful sexual behavior.

But Johnson has promised to stay.

Boris Johnson is fighting for political life amid mass statements from his government

Johnson came to power on a promise to “get Brexit done.” He secured a large parliamentary majority for his Conservative party in a parliamentary election in December 2019. At times during his nearly three years at 10 Downing Street, as the British Prime Minister’s office is known, he was popular with a large section of the public and yet more popular in his party. But he has lost public confidence: In a new YouGov poll, 69 percent of Britons said Johnson should resign, and many of his party members agree.

So how did he get here? Here’s what you need to know.

Who are Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid – and why do their resignations matter?

Senior Ministers Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resigned on Tuesday within minutes of each other, expressing a lack of confidence in Johnson’s leadership.

They appeared to have been tipped over the edge of the latest scandal that engulfed Johnson and his government – involving allegations that the prime minister promoted Chris Pincher, a political ally he knew had been accused of misconduct, to a central government position and then incorrectly characterized what he knew about it.

Getting a senior cabinet member to resign is a major issue in British politics, and Sunak and Javid were in particularly important positions. Sunak, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was essentially Britain’s finance minister, responsible for dealing with the cost-of-living crisis facing millions of Britons. Javid was the UK’s health and social secretary leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Both are seen as potential replacements for Johnson, and they had strong words for him in their resignation letters. said Sunak: “The public rightly expects the government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognize that this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

He also suggested that Johnson was unwilling to be honest with the public about the cost of stabilizing Britain’s economy, which is facing runaway inflation.

In its own right letter of resignationJavid wrote that although Johnson survived a no-confidence vote last month, the Conservative Party no longer demonstrated competence or acted in the national interest.

“It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership,” he wrote to Johnson, “and you have therefore also lost my confidence.”

Boris Johnson’s latest scandal causes top ministers to resign

What’s the Chris Pincher scandal?

In February, Johnson Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker, was promoted to the position of deputy chief of staff in the House of Commons, a leadership role that involves keeping Conservative party members voting in line with the government’s legislative agenda.

But Pincher withdrew from that position last week amid a scandal when the British press largely reported that he had allegedly tried to grope several men while intoxicated at a bar. Pincher wrote in a letter to Johnson that he “drank way too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people” at a gathering.

Pincher had been accused of inappropriate behavior at least twice before. He resigned from his post as government whip in 2017 after a Conservative party activist accused him of making unwanted progress towards him. And in 2019, after Johnson brought Pincher back into government, Pincher was again charged with similar misconduct.

But the main problem for Johnson centers on what he knew and when. First, Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister was unaware of past incidents involving Pincher’s alleged misconduct. Several prime ministers also spoke out in defense of Johnson, saying they had been assured he did not know about the previous allegations.

Then Simon McDonald, the former head of Britain’s diplomatic service, posted a letter on Twitter accusing the government of misleading the public – a very unusual move for a British official. “Mr Johnson was personally briefed on the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” McDonald said.

Johnson’s office was then forced to go back, saying the prime minister had not been able to remember the briefing before. In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Johnson admitted that he was told about the 2019 accusation against Pincher and said he made a “bad mistake” by promoting him despite the complaints. “I regret that,” he said.

What other scandals has Johnson faced?

This is only the latest in a series of scandals he has faced – although it seems to pose one of the biggest challenges for his management so far.

Johnson was criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A public inquiry concluded in October 2021 that the pandemic was “one of the most important public health failures Britain has ever experienced.”

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It was exacerbated by “Partygate” – a scandal stemming from a dozen bubbling government rallies in Downing Street as shutdowns and social distance were in place during the worst pandemic. In April, Johnson was fined by police – making him the first incumbent British prime minister found to have broken the law – for his participation in a birthday party during the June 2020 lockdown.

He has also faced accusations that he was trying to secure a government job for his then-girlfriend Carrie Johnson (now his wife) when he was secretary of state. And he has been criticized over a rising cost of living crisis in the UK

Allies began to withdraw their support, one of which condemned the “culture of random crime” in Downing Street. Last month, he faced a no-confidence vote from his party – and while he survived, more than 40 percent of his conservative colleagues voted against him.

Johnson said he has no plans to stop. But he is under intense pressure from the remaining members of his cabinet to resign.

He also faces the prospect of another no-confidence vote. The current conservative party rules isolate him from further party challenges for a year. But there is a push for the Conservative private members’ committee in parliament, informally known as the 1922 committee, to change the rules. It would allow Johnson’s party colleagues to vote again before whether to keep him as their leader.

The committee met on Wednesday and decided to postpone any changes until new members are elected next week. A new intake of lawmakers who are against Johnson and obligated to change the rules could tip the balance.

In addition to the fallout from the Pincher scandal, Johnson is still facing a parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied to lawmakers in connection with Partygate.

Britain to investigate whether Boris Johnson lied about lockdown parties

Adela Suliman and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.

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