Facing an untenable political situation, Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the U.K.’s Conservative Party on Thursday and said he would step down as prime minister — but he wants to stick around until the fall while Conservatives choose a new leader. He might not get the chance.
In a short speech, Johnson portrayed himself as a man brought low by the vicissitudes of British politics.
He allowed that “it is clearly now the will” of the Conservative Party to have a new leader and “the process of choosing that new leader should begin now.” But Johnson didn’t take any responsibility for the jam he finds himself in nor display any kind of regret for his dodgy behavior. Instead, he talked up the “incredible mandate” he and the Tories earned in 2019, when they crushed the Labour Party in general elections, and the programs he has attempted to put into place “leveling up” the North of England with the South. (The minister in charge of that effort, Michael Gove, was fired by Johnson on Wednesday.) Johnson also claimed he was the victim of a “herd instinct” in British politics.
“I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world,” he said later. “But them’s the breaks.”
The 1922 Committee, a parliamentary group that represents Conservatives in Parliament, will shortly begin the process of choosing a new leader. If Johnson hadn’t stepped down, it seemed likely that the committee would have taken a more drastic path: changing the rules to allow a second no-confidence vote within one year, which would have almost certainly led to Johnson’s ouster. (He survived the first no-confidence vote in June.) It’s unclear whether the committee will now take steps to force Johnson out before his preferred timeline; former prime minister John Major is among those counseling that path.
Since Tuesday, with the abrupt resignations of health minister Sajid Javid and chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, Johnson has suffered blow after blow. Dozens more officials resigned from his administration, and many of his Cabinet ministers told him it was time to go. The proximate cause for his plight is a contretemps involving Chris Pincher, a Tory MP who allegedly groped two men last week and whom Johnson admitted he had hired in 2019 despite being aware of a previous complaint. But Johnson’s downfall is really the accumulation of an endless string of scandals, most notable among them Johnson’s brazen flouting of COVID lockdown rules he himself had imposed, for which he was fined after an official inquiry.
Though almost everyone (including the general public) wanted him out, Johnson, who has seemingly been immune to the laws of political gravity during his three-year run as PM, had vowed not to give an inch on Wednesday. But by Thursday, even he had reached his limit — sort of. Dominic Cummings, Brexit architect and erstwhile Johnson ally turned fierce enemy, theorized that Johnson is still entertaining the idea that he could stay on indefinitely:
But there may be a more pedestrian, and even more Johnson-esque, instinct at play here:
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