LONDON – A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought to stay in power on Wednesday after his government was rocked by the resignation of two top ministers, who said they could no longer serve under his scandal-tarnished leadership.
His first challenge is to get through Wednesday, where he must ask tough questions during the prime minister’s weekly questioning session in parliament, and a long-scheduled discussion by a committee of senior lawmakers.
Months of disaffection with Johnson’s judgment and ethics within the ruling Conservative Party erupted with the resignation of Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid within minutes of each other on Tuesday night. In a scathing letter of resignation, Sunak said that “the public rightly expects the government to be run correctly, competently and seriously. … I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Javid said the party needed “humility, grip and a new direction”, but “it is clear that this situation will not change under your leadership.”
Johnson quickly replaced the two ministers, promoted Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to the Treasury and installed his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health minister.
But a string of resignations late Tuesday of younger ministers — from both the liberal and right-wing wing of the Conservative Party — showed that Johnson’s danger was far from over.
In recent months, Johnson has been fined by police and criticized by an investigative report on parties violating lockdown in government during the pandemic; survived a no-confidence vote by his party in which 41% of conservative lawmakers voted to oust him; and has seen formerly loyal lieutenants urging him to resign.
Through it all, he has vowed to continue to rule — even suggesting that he wants to remain in office until 2030.
The final straw for Sunak and Javid was the Prime Minister’s mixed statements about his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal.
The latest scandal started last week when lawmaker Chris Pincher resigned as Conservative deputy head whip amid complaints he had groped two men at a private club. That led to a series of reports of past allegations against Pincher and questions about why Johnson promoted him to a senior position to enforce party discipline.