UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

0
97
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

Key cabinet ministers are planning to meet with him at Downing Street where it is expected they demand he quit. Video / 5 News

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is battling to remain in office, shrugging off calls for his resignation after a slew of officials resigned from his government. A total of 42 MPs have now quit their roles, the Guardian reports.

Johnson rejected demands that he step down during a stormy session of the House of Commons in the wake of a furore over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a senior official.

Later in the day, a delegation of some of his most trusted allies in the Cabinet paid a visit to Johnson at Downing Street to urge him to go, Britain’s Press Association reported. Senior minister Michael Gove was sacked for his role in the standoff.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general, said there was an overwhelming sense of despair among Conservative MPs and joined the calls for Johnson to resign.

“The time has come for the PM to step down,” she told ITV News. It was “untenable” for him to continue as leader, she said.

Johnson rejected suggestions he seek a “dignified exit” and opted instead to fight for his political future, citing “hugely important issues facing the country”. The prime minister told his colleagues there would be “chaos” if he quit, possibly leading to an early election and “almost certain” defeat for the party.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo / AP
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Photo / AP

Earlier Wednesday (Thursday NZ time), members of the opposition Labour Party showered Johnson with shouts of “Go! Go!” during the weekly ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons as critics argued the leader’s days were numbered following his poor handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a senior official.

But more damningly, members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party — wearied by the many scandals he has faced — also challenged their leader, with one asking whether there was anything that might prompt him to resign.

“Frankly … the job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he’s been handed a colossal mandate, is to keep going,” Johnson replied with the bluster he has used to fend off critics throughout nearly three years in office. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”

His fellow Conservatives listened quietly and offered little support.

Johnson is known for his ability to wiggle out of tight spots, managing to remain in power despite suggestions that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament about parties in government offices that broke Covid-19 lockdown rules.

He hung on even when 41 per cent of Conservative lawmakers voted to oust him in a no-confidence vote last month and formerly loyal lieutenants urged him to quit.

But recent revelations that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a lawmaker before he promoted the man to a senior position in his government have pushed him to the brink.

Many of his fellow Conservatives were concerned that Johnson no longer had the moral authority to govern at a time when difficult decisions are needed to address soaring food and energy prices, rising Covid-19 infections and the war in Ukraine. Others worry that he may now be a liability at the ballot box.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo / AP
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Photo / AP

Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who helped trigger the current crisis when he resigned Tuesday night, captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.

“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he told fellow lawmakers. “I believe that point is now.”

Johnson’s grilling in Parliament was the first of two Wednesday. He was also questioned by a committee of senior lawmakers.

Under current party rules, another no-confidence vote cannot be held for another 11 months, but party members can change that rule.

Months of discontent over Johnson’s judgment and ethics erupted when Javid and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening. The two heavyweights of the Cabinet were responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a scathing letter, Sunak said: “The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. … I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside No 9 Downing Street. Photo / AP
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside No 9 Downing Street. Photo / AP

Javid said the party needs “humility, grip and a new direction”, but “it is clear this situation will not change under your leadership”.

Mindful of the need to shore up confidence, Johnson quickly replaced the ministers, promoting Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to treasury chief and installing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.

But the resignations of more than 30 junior ministers and ministerial aides followed Tuesday and Wednesday.

As Johnson dug in, critics accused him of refusing to accept the inevitable and of behaving more like a president than a prime minister by referring to his “mandate”. In Britain, voters elect a party to govern, not the prime minister directly.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said late Tuesday that Johnson’s time was finally up.

“It’s a bit like the death of Rasputin: He’s been poisoned, stabbed, he’s been shot, his body’s been dumped in a freezing river, and still he lives,” Mitchell told the BBC. “But this is an abnormal prime minister, a brilliantly charismatic, very funny, very amusing, big, big character. But I’m afraid he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister.”

Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo / AP
Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo / AP

The final straw for Sunak and Javid was the prime minister’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher.

Last week, Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip after complaints he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations levelled against Pincher — and shifting explanations from the government about what Johnson knew when he tapped the man for a senior job enforcing party discipline.

It was all too much for ministers who have been sent out to defend the government’s position in radio and TV interviews, only to find the story changed within a few hours.

Bim Afolami, who quit as Conservative Party vice chairman on Tuesday, said he had been willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt — until the Pincher affair.

“The difficulty is not overall the programme of the government,” he said. “The problem is character and integrity in Downing Street, and I think that people in the Conservative Party and people in the country know that.”

Paul Drechsler, chair of the International Chamber of Commerce in Britain, said change is needed at the top if the government is going to address a growing economic crisis.

“I would say the most important thing to do is to feed people who are hungry,” he told the BBC. “The poorest in our society are going to be starving to death the second half of this year. That needs to be addressed.”

Read More

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here