As if he had not been defeated, Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on Thursday afternoon. He regretted not being able to convince his colleagues that it was “weird” to leave now, he said, but was not completely discouraged. He will remain in office until a new head of government is found. “Booooooooo,” came a distant voice from the audience. “I know a lot of you are relieved that I’m leaving,” Johnson said. “And maybe a few of them will be disappointed as well.”
Indeed, disappointed. “Disappointed and desperate.” Such was the mood with Britain’s Conservative Party, prominent Tory Steve Baker told the BBC on Thursday morning outside 10 Downing Street, where the press waited hours for Johnson to come out to announce his departure.
I know many of you are relieved that I am leaving. And maybe some will be disappointed too
Boris Johnson upon announcement of his resignation
But, Baker admitted when asked, the conservative leadership had also become “a circus.” Within 48 hours, more than 50 government officials had resigned amid dissatisfaction with the prime minister’s leadership.
And for three days, a whole parade of party members had marched through the public arena to signal Johnson — either with a subtle push or a firm push — to make way.
Tuesday: the fall
The political spectacle that led to Johnson’s resignation began at 6.02pm (UK time) on Tuesday evening with a tweet in which Health Minister Sajid Javid announced his departure, followed nine minutes later by a similar tweet of his colleague Rishi Sunak (Finance).
Their resignation letters were prompted by Johnson’s admission that he knew about the assault allegations against his party colleague Chris Pincher before giving him a senior post – something the Prime Minister had previously denied.
But Javid and Sunak’s letters weren’t limited to Pincher’s spin. Javid wrote in so many words that Johnson is dishonest and incompetent. In fact, Sunak wrote that he found the prime minister to be dishonest, including in his communication to citizens about the country’s finances.
Johnson’s end had already begun earlier with the knowledge of now. Maybe Partygate, the holiday scandal in the official residence during the coronalockdowns, and Johnson’s spin on it. Or maybe more than a year and a half ago in Johnson’s speech about MP Owen Paterson, who had been accused of corruption. Pincher was the proverbial straw.
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And the resignation of two key ministers marked the start of the terminal phase Johnson had been in since Tuesday night. But it took time to understand everyone. Some lesser-known members of the party also resigned on Tuesday evening, but party leaders fell silent or wholeheartedly rallied around the prime minister. He appointed two deputies the same evening, in a headlong rush. Respected Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi has been promoted to Finance.
Wednesday: the punch
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson showed up for the first time after ministers resigned, during weekly Question Time in the House of Commons. Flanked by an amused nod from Zahawi, Johnson spoke, in his characteristic combative tone, about his day-to-day work, until he himself burst out laughing – apparently aware of the absurdity of the situation. Fifteen government officials had already resigned before question time, and two others left within the hour. When Johnson then left the House of Commons, one MP jokingly shouted: “Bye Boris!” And then it rang out in many throats: “Bye! Goodbye!”
Johnson’s agenda also included a meeting with the chairs of all House of Commons committees on Wednesday afternoon. They threw critical questions at the Prime Minister for two hours on the most diverse topics, which he could hardly parry. He dragged himself to the end.
Thereafter, a full official residence awaited him. There, confidants had gathered to address Johnson backstage. There were words of unwavering support, from Minister Nadine Dorries (Culture), for example. But a large delegation of ministers had also come to Downing Street to talk to Johnson about a somewhat dignified retirement.
Meanwhile, it had been leaked that Secretary of State Michael Gove (Housing), one of Johnson’s most important allies, had already visited the Prime Minister that morning to tell him to step down. When that came out, analysts dropped Johnson. Johnson would never overcome Gove’s punch. Johnson would step down Wednesday night, they predicted.
So there was great disbelief in Westminster when the message came from Downing Street that evening that Johnson was still resisting his departure. Gove received a call from Johnson informing him that he had been fired.
Thursday: The Mortal Blow
The fatal blow did not come until Thursday morning, calculated by new finance minister Nadhim Zahawi, who sat alongside Johnson in parliament the day before. On Twitter was at 8:43 a.m. to be read by allPrime Minister, the situation is untenable and will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and especially for the country. Now you have to do the right thing and leave.
Shortly after, the BBC reported that Johnson was quitting. But not completely. In a last-ditch attempt to gain ground before announcing his resignation, he has appointed six more ministers, with whom he plans to continue to govern until a new leader is found. Much to the dismay of many conservatives, who say Johnson must leave immediately.
The struggle for leadership has already begun. Steve Baker, who he said was so “disappointed”, even said before Johnson announced his resignation that he wanted to become prime minister. Other Tories with that ambition would – not quite coincidentally – be politicians who have made their voices heard in recent days. Sajid Javid is mentioned, as are Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Nadhim Zahawi. Anyone who wants a political stimulus should let go of Boris Johnson as soon as possible.
Baker, the Brexiteer who previously helped oust former Prime Minister Theresa May and publicly declared in April that Johnson must step down, told the BBC on Thursday: “Now we have to smile and stick our chests out.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of July 8, 2022
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