Boris Johnson resigns as PM, political drama ends in Britain

Rishi Sunak, Ben Wallace, Liz Truss among contenders for the top post

Updated - July 08, 2022 12:34 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2022 02:17 pm IST - LONDON:

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves after making a statement in front of 10 Downing Street on July 7, 2022.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves after making a statement in front of 10 Downing Street on July 7, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Boris Johnson resigned on Thursday as leader of Britain’s Conservative party, paving the way for the selection of a new Prime Minister after dozens of Ministers quit his government over 48 hours of frenzied political drama.

“It is clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new Prime Minister,” Mr. Johnson said outside 10 Downing Street.

The timetable for a Tory leadership race will be announced next week, he said, after three tumultuous years in office defined by Brexit, the COVID pandemic and non-stop controversy over his reputation for mendacity. In the latest, party colleague Chris Pincher had to resign as Deputy Chief Whip last week over allegations of sexual misconduct.

‘Best job in the world’

Mr. Johnson, 58, said he would stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is found.

He had fought hard against a Cabinet revolt and said he was “sad... to be giving up the best job in the world”, justifying fighting on in the final hours to deliver the mandate he won in a Brexit-dominated general election in December 2019.

“And let me say now, to the people of Ukraine, that I know that we in the U.K. will continue to back your fight for freedom for as long as it takes,” he added in his six-minute address.

Ukraine’s presidency thanked Mr. Johnson for his support in “the hardest times”.

Mr. Johnson’s few remaining allies in the Tory party stood adjacent alongside wife Carrie, carrying their baby daughter Romy.

The Conservative leadership election will take place over the summer and the victor will replace Mr. Johnson by the party’s annual conference in early October, the BBC and others reported.

Defence Minister Ben Wallace and Indian-origin Rishi Sunak, whose departure as Finance Minister on Tuesday sparked the Cabinet exodus, were among the early frontrunners to succeed Mr. Johnson, according to a YouGov survey of Conservative party members.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, another potential contender, said Mr. Johnson had “made the right decision” as she cut short a trip to Indonesia for a G-20 meeting. “We need calmness and unity now and to keep governing while a new leader is found,” she tweeted.

But in the highly charged hours building up to Mr. Johnson’s announcement, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer had said the country cannot wait.

Mr. Starmer said “a proper change of government” was needed and demanded a no-confidence vote in Parliament, potentially triggering a general election, rather than Mr. Johnson “clinging on for months and months”.

Even while eyeing the exit, Mr. Johnson had earlier Thursday sought to steady the ship with several appointments to replace the departed cabinet members.

They included Greg Clark, an arch “remainer” opposed to Britain’s divorce from the European Union, which Johnson had championed.

Shailesh Vara, who has never served in the Cabinet, was put in charge of Northern Ireland, with the government locked in battle with Brussels over post-Brexit trading rules for the tense territory.

Mr. Johnson had been clinging on to power despite a wave of more than 50 government resignations, expressing defiance late Wednesday.

But Thursday’s departure of Education Minister Michelle Donelan and a plea to quit from Finance Minister Nadhim Zahawi, only in their jobs for two days, appeared to tip the balance along with warnings of a new no-confidence vote by Tory MPs.

Mr. Johnson triumphed in 2019 with a vow to “get Brexit done” following Britain’s shock referendum decision three years prior. But for many, the populist, convention-defying leader had outstayed his welcome.

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