LATEST: Boris Johnson resigns as UK prime minister

British leader steps down after days of drama — but vows to stay on as while a leadership contest plays out.

LATEST: Boris Johnson resigns as UK prime minister
LATEST: Boris Johnson resigns as UK prime minister

LONDON — Boris Johnson is standing down as U.K. prime minister after a wave of government resignations and a revolt from his own Cabinet left him unable to carry on.

He will stay on as a caretaker leader while the race to replace him gets going — but critics in his own party want him out of office sooner.

Johnson — who spearheaded the campaign for Brexit and led his party to an emphatic election victory in December 2019 — made an at-times defiant statement outside No.10 Downing Street, as he teed up a battle to succeed him as head of the governing Conservative party.


“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson conceded.

He said he intended to serve until a new leader is in place and that a timetable for the leadership race will be announced next week.

In the latest developments on Thursday:
— Johnson told a newly-assembled Cabinet he would “not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction” as he presses to stay on as a caretaker leader.
— Former Conservative prime minister John Major led calls for Johnson to leave office sooner rather than later.
— Tory backbencher Steve Baker said he was “seriously considering” a run for the leadership.
— Labour Leader Keir Starmer promised a vote of no confidence if Johnson does not go soon.

In a resignation speech that reeled off his own achievements and struck a bullish tone after days of resignations in his own ranks and months of controversy over his leadership, Johnson rebuked colleagues whose disloyalty eventually forced him out.

Johnson said he had tried to persuade colleagues it would “be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate.” His party, he contended, remained “only a handful of points behind in the polls, even in mid-term after quite a few months of pretty relentless sledging” and amid a bleak economic picture at home and abroad.

“I am immensely proud of the achievements of this government,” he said, pointing to Britain’s exit from the European Union, its “fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown” and the U.K.’s response in “standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.”

And he added: “I want you know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”

Caretaker row

Johnson’s government had been in crisis mode for months.

A string of revelations, first about coronavirus lockdown-busting parties attended by key figures at the top of British politics, including Johnson himself, and later concerning the government’s poor handling of successive allegations of abusive behavior by Conservative MPs, shook Johnson’s grip on power.

Yet his decision to stay in place, and to appoint a new Cabinet, while a fresh Tory leader is chosen has already riled his internal party critics, who want him gone as soon as possible.

In a dramatic intervention, former Conservative Prime Minister John Major — a longstanding critic of Johnson’s — fired off a letter to party bosses urging a speedier handover.

“Some will argue that his new Cabinet will restrain him,” Major wrote in a letter to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee tasked with overseeing Tory rules. “I merely note that his previous Cabinet did not – or could not — do so.”

And he added: “For the overall wellbeing of the country, Mr Johnson should not remain in Downing Street — when he is unable to command the confidence of the House of Commons — for any longer than necessary to effect the smooth transition of Government.”

Senior party official Nusrat Ghani told BBC Radio 4: “We have a deputy prime minister … and I think it’s important that we have somebody in place that has the confidence of colleagues to put in place an administration that can function.”

Cabinet reshuffled

Even in the face of his inevitable downfall, Johnson still attempted a show of strength Thursday and continued filling the many now vacant ministerial positions.

Senior ministers appointed included Greg Clark, whom Johnson stripped of the Conservative Party whip in 2019 after he rebelled over Brexit. Clark was named as leveling up secretary, tasked with a key Johnson policy promise to address regional inequalities across the country. He replaces Michael Gove, who was sacked after telling the prime minister to quit.

James Cleverly, a longstanding ally of Johnson’s, was made education secretary. His immediate predecessor Michelle Donelan lasted less than 48 hours in post. She was promoted to the job on Tuesday night and resigned Thursday morning while urging Johnson to step aside.

But those appointments also drew rancor from Johnson’s internal party critics. One official who worked for a rebel Cabinet minister said Johnson was “literally buying time” and that his appointments meant people were now “questioning whether he intends to leave at all.”

Seeking to address concerns about his continued spell at No.10, Johnson told his newly-assembled Cabinet ministers Thursday afternoon that he “would not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction,” according to a readout provided by his office, and stressed that “major fiscal decisions should be left for the next prime minister.”

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer threatened to trigger a no confidence vote in the House of Commons if Johnson does not step down immediately, saying the country “cannot go on with this prior minister clinging on for months and months to come.”

Johnson’s decision to go follows days of high drama in Westminster, which began with the resignation of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday evening and was followed by a spate of exits that rippled through the government ranks. A delegation of senior ministers — including a chancellor Johnson had appointed less than a day earlier — visited the prime minister Wednesday night to tell him the game was up.

Brady, chair of the 1922 committee Tory MP organizing group, visited the prime minister in Downing Street on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to underline he had lost the confidence of his party and it was time to go.

Ghani, vice-chair of the same committee, said colleagues had run out of patience “because of issues around honesty, integrity, trust and respect had been trashed for them.”

Tory race begins

Johnson’s announcement set off the starting gun for a Conservative Party leadership contest to replace him.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary and widely tipped as a leadership contender, cut short her trip to a G20 meeting in Indonesia to return to the U.K. and is expected to make a statement on Thursday.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general, announced Wednesday night that she would stand, though she did not resign from the government. Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and influential backbencher, told Times Radio he was “taking seriously” requests from his party to throw his hat into the ring.

A YouGov snap poll of 716 Conservative party members found Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is the current favorite, with 13 percent of those asked backing him to take over as prime minister. A minister in the trade department, Penny Mordaunt, came in second with 12 percent, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak third with 10 percent and Truss on 8 percent. MPs will narrow the field down to two candidates who will then face a runoff vote by the wider party membership.

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