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Boris Johnson Resigns as U.K. Prime Minister: ‘In Politics, No One Is Remotely Indispensable’

Boris Johnson
AP

UPDATE: Boris Johnson has resigned as U.K. prime minister amid mounting scandals and the resignations of his top ministers.

In a six-minute speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Johnson said: “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of the party and therefore a new prime minister.”

He went on to list his achievements during his tenure, including the rapid vaccine rollout, Brexit and “leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.”

A timetable for appointing his successor will be revealed next week, Johnson said.

“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, when we have such a vast mandate,” Johnson said. “And when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls, and even in midterm after quite a few months of pretty relentless sledging and when the economic scene is so difficult domestically and internationally, 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.”

“But as we’ve seen, in Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful when the herd moves, it moves. And my friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable, and our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times,” Johnson added.

“I know that there will be many people who are relieved, and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed,” Johnson said. “And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.

“Being prime minister is an education in itself. I’ve traveled to every part of the United Kingdom. And in addition to the beauty of our natural world, I find so many people possessed of such boundless British originality and so willing to tackle old problems in new ways that I know that even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden,” Johnson concluded.

Following a turbulent 48 hours in British politics, Johnson finally agreed to stand down, and a new Conservative leader is expected to be in place by the party conference in October. Johnson will remain as PM until the autumn, rounding out a premiership of just over three years.

The leader’s resignation followed the astonishing exits of more than 50 government staff in the span of less than 48 hours, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Savid Javid, two of the most senior members of Johnson’s Cabinet. The latter pair quit on July 5, with Javid claiming that “this situation will not change under [Johnson’s] leadership — and you have therefore lost my confidence.”

Soon after, a steady stream of ministers quit amid an uprising in government. A delegation of MPs, including freshly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, confronted the PM on Wednesday evening, urging him to resign. As of Thursday morning, 21 ministers had resigned amid 51 resignations from Johnson’s government in total.

Johnson has been plagued by a string of scandals in recent months. Javid and Sunak’s resignations followed an apology from the PM for appointing disgraced Member of Parliament Chris Pincher as his deputy chief whip despite being aware of previous allegations of sexual misconduct against Pincher.

Pincher was accused of groping two men at a Tory event at London’s Carlton Club and resigned in late June. A wave of prior misconduct allegations about the MP have since followed. Johnson denied for days that he was aware of the allegations, but admitted on Tuesday evening that he knew three years ago of a complaint made against Pincher in the Foreign Office.

The Pincher brouhaha came on the heels of the Partygate scandal, which involved a series of parties held at 10 Downing Street — which is Johnson’s office as well as his private home — and attended by top government officials during the strictest period of the U.K.’s lockdown. A number of photographs have shown the British prime minister in attendance at these gatherings.

Johnson — the subject of a Michael Winterbottom drama series for Sky, starring Kenneth Branagh as the PM — faced a no-confidence vote last month, and emerged victorious, though only by a narrow margin. In the final June 5 vote, 211 Conservative MPs voted for Johnson while 148 voted against. He needed 180 votes for him to remain in office.

Johnson was elected prime minister in July 2019, meaning much of his tenure has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which struck almost eight months into his leadership. Johnson’s government faced intense scrutiny for its response to the health crisis, which has so far claimed 181,000 lives in the U.K. Johnson himself contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and was hospitalized, leaving after an eventful week that saw him at one point placed in intensive care.