ABOVE PHOTO: In this image taken from video from the House of Commons, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears in front of the Liaison Committee in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday July 6, 2022. Johnson has insisted he is staying in his job despite a cascade of resignations from his government and a rapidly growing revolt within his Conservative ranks openly calling for him to quit. (House of Commons via AP)
By Danica Kirka,
Jill Lawless And Sylvia Hui
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday amid a mass revolt by top members of his government, marking an end to three tumultuous years in power in which he brazenly bent and sometimes broke the rules of British politics. Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as Johnson stood in 10 Downing Street and conceded that his party wanted him gone.
“Them’s the breaks,” he said.
The brash, 58-year-old politician who took Britain out of the European Union and steered it through COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine was brought down by one scandal too many — this one involving his appointment of a politician who had been accused of sexual misconduct.
The messiest of prime ministers did not leave cleanly. Johnson stepped down immediately as Conservative Party leader but said he would remain as prime minister until the party chooses his successor. The timetable for that process will be announced next week, he said.
But many in the party want him gone before then, and his government has been shredded by scores of resignations.
Among the possible candidates to succeed him: former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Johnson had clung to power for two days, defiantly telling lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to get on with the business of government.
But he was forced to concede defeat Thursday morning after one of his closest allies, newly appointed Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi, publicly told him to resign for the good of the country.
“In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate,” Johnson said outside his office. “I regret not to have been successful in those arguments, and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’’
About 50 Cabinet secretaries, ministers and lower-level officials had quit the government over the past few days, often castigating the prime minister for his lack of integrity.
The mass resignations had left numerous positions unfilled, and the crisis had stalled the business of some parliamentary committees because there were no ministers available to speak on the government’s behalf.
“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 said.
Zahawi, who was promoted earlier this week as Johnson tried to shore up his Cabinet, said he and a group of colleagues had privately expressed their concerns to the prime minister on Wednesday and he decided to go public after Johnson ignored the advice to resign.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government,” Zahawi said in a letter posted on Twitter. “But the country deserves a government that is not only stable but which acts with integrity.”
It is a humiliating defeat for Johnson, who not only pulled off Brexit but was credited with rolling out one of the world’s most successful mass vaccination campaigns to combat COVID-19.
But the perpetually rumpled, shaggy-haired leader known for greeting critics with bombast and bluster was also dogged by criticism that he acted as if the rules did not apply to him.
Johnson became prime minister in July 2019, succeeding Theresa May, who resigned after Parliament rejected the Brexit agreement she negotiated with the EU. Johnson pushed his own Brexit deal through in an often messy and turbulent debate.
He managed to remain in power despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament about government office parties that broke COVID-19 lockdown