Two of Britain’s most senior cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday, potentially marking the end of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership after months of scandal.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other after a day when the Prime Minister was forced to admit he had to change his story about how he handled allegations of sexual harassment by a senior member his government.
“It is with great regret that I have to tell you that I can no longer in good conscience continue to serve in this government,” Javid said in his resignation letter. “I’m instinctively a team player, but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government.”
Sunak said that “the public rightly expects the government to act properly, competently and seriously. »
“I understand that this may be my last ministerial position, but I believe that these standards are worth fighting for, and that is why I am resigning,” he added.
Both Sunak and Javid have been seen as possible contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party if Johnson is ousted. Their departures are a major blow to the prime minister because both were responsible for two of the biggest problems Britain is currently facing – the cost of living crisis and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest scandal led to Johnson being accused of failing to speak out about a lawmaker who was appointed to the top job despite allegations of sexual misconduct.
Johnson faced pressure to clarify what he knew about previous allegations of misconduct against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday amid complaints he groped two men at a private club.
Minutes before Javid and Sunak’s resignations were announced, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been sacked from the government following a previous incident in 2019.
Asked if it was a mistake to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said: “I think it was a mistake and I apologize for that. In hindsight, it was wrong.’
“I apologize to anyone who was deeply affected by this. I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no place in this government for anyone who engages in predation or abuses their power,” Johnson said.
The government’s explanations have changed several times over the past five days. Ministers initially said Johnson was unaware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.
A spokesman said Monday that Johnson was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct that “have either been resolved or have not progressed to a formal complaint.”
This account did not sit well with Simon Macdonald, the most senior civil servant in the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister’s Office was still not telling the truth.
Macdonald said in a letter to the parliamentary standards commissioner that he had received complaints about Pincher’s behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became foreign secretary. An investigation upheld the complaint and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.
MacDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been settled or not made official.
“The original line #10 is not true and the modification is still inaccurate,” Macdonald wrote, referring to the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street. “Mr. Johnson has been personally briefed on the initiation and outcome of the investigation.
Hours after McDonald’s comments appeared, Johnson’s office again changed its brief, saying the prime minister had forgotten he had been told Pincher was the subject of a formal complaint.
The latest revelations sparked outrage in Johnson’s cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deny the prime minister, only to delay the explanation until the next day.
On Tuesday, the Times of London published an analysis of the situation under the headline “Allegation of lying puts Boris Johnson at risk”.
Johnson’s authority has already been shaken by a vote of no confidence last month. He survived, but 41% of Conservatives voted to remove him from office.
The prime minister’s erratic response to months of allegations of partying at government offices, which eventually led to 126 fines, including one imposed on Johnson, raised concerns about his leadership.
Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were soundly defeated in two snap elections to fill vacant seats in parliament, deepening discontent in Johnson’s party.
When Pincher resigned last week as deputy chief executive, who holds a key role in ensuring party discipline, he told the prime minister he had “drank too much” last night and had “embarrassed myself and other people”.
Johnson initially refused to expel Pincher from the Conservative Party, but relented after a formal complaint was made to parliamentary bodies about the groping allegations.
Critics suggested that Johnson was slow to react because he did not want to be able to force Pincher to leave his seat in parliament and set the Conservatives up for another potential election defeat.
Even before the scandal with Pincher, there were speculations that soon Johnson could face another vote of no confidence.
In the next few weeks, Conservative lawmakers will elect new members to a committee that sets parliamentary rules for the party. Several candidates suggested they would support changing the rules to allow another vote of no confidence. Existing rules require 12 months between such votes.
Senior Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, a longtime critic of Johnson, said he would support changing the 1922 Conservative caucus rules.
“Mr Johnson has been sending ministers for three days – in one case a Cabinet minister – to defend unjustifiably, effectively lying on his behalf. This cannot be allowed to continue,” Gale told the BBC. “This Prime Minister has ruined the reputation of a proud and honorable party for honesty and decency, and this is unacceptable.”