Two of Britain’s most senior Cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday, a move that could spell the end of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership after months of scandals.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other after a day in which the prime minister was forced to acknowledge he had to change his story on the way he handled allegations of sexual misconduct by a senior member of his government.
“It is with enormous regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this government," Mr. Javid said in his resignation letter. “I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government."
Mr. Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”
“I recognize this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Mr. Johnson has been hit by allegations he failed to come clean about a lawmaker who was appointed to a senior position despite claims of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip Thursday amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club.
Minutes before the resignations of Javid and Sunak were announced, Mr. Johnson said Mr. Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.
Asked if it was an error to appoint Mr. Pincher to the government, Mr. Johnson: “I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do."
The government’s explanation shifted repeatedly over the past five days. Ministers initially said Mr. Johnson was not aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.
On Monday, a spokesman said Mr. Johnson knew of sexual misconduct allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
That account did not sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the U.K. Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said on Tuesday that the prime minister’s office still wasn’t telling the truth.
McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.
McDonald disputed that Mr. Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not made formally.
Following is the full text of British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak's resignation letter
"It is with deep sadness that I am writing to you to resign from the Government.
"It has been an enormous privilege to serve our country as Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will always be proud of how during the pandemic we protected people's jobs and businesses through actions such as furlough.
"To leave ministerial office is a serious matter at any time. For me to step down as Chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly.
"However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. 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.
"I have been loyal to you. I backed you to become Leader of our Party and encouraged others to do so. I have served as your Chancellor with gratitude that you entrusted me with stewardship of the nation's economy and finances.
"Above all, I have respected the powerful mandate given to you by the British people in 2019 and how under your leadership we broke the Brexit deadlock.
"That is why I have always tried to compromise in order to deliver the things you want to achieve. On those occasions where I disagreed with you privately, I have supported you publicly. That is the nature of the collective government which our system relies and it is particularly important that the Prime Minister and Chancellor remain united in hard times such as those we are experiencing today.
"Our country is facing immense challenges. We both want a low-tax, high-growth economy, and world class public services, but this can only be responsibly delivered if we are prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and take difficult decisions.
"I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it's not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one. In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different.
"I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this.
Reaction from Financial Markets
PHILIP SHAW, CHIEF ECONOMIST, INVESTEC
"It's increasingly difficult for the prime minister to hang on. It seems quite similar to what happened to Theresa May when Boris Johnson and David Davis resigned in fairly close proximity to one another over Brexit.
"The initial gut reaction would be... to sell the currency. However, the UK is evidently not the only economy in a precarious or fragile position. One could argue that the UK will take a less confrontational approach towards the EU negotiations which could lower the perceived threat of a trade war or trade actions."
KENNETH BROUX, FX STRATEGIST AT SOCIETE GENERALE
"This brings the crisis in the cabinet to a head. This means that is difficult to for PM Johnson to hang on.
"The pound and the euro has already had a bad day in the office and we could see a bit more of a reaction tomorrow. The implications for the pound and UK assets is more about the macro backdrop such as BoE and evolving inflation outlook and this shouldn't exaggerate the pressure on the downside for sterling and UK assets.
DAVID OWEN, CHIEF ECONOMIST AT SALTMARSH ECONOMICS
"On a three-month view this could be positive for UK assets as we could get more fiscal easing in the autumn. It could clear the air and bring a more stable backdrop. But near term, it depends on the political backdrop."