After losing two of his top ministers within minutes on Tuesday, an aide reportedly asked Boris Johnson if he would tender his resignation.
He replied, “Damn that.”
The humiliating toll of Johnson’s government came when he apologized on television for his recent scandals: appointing Chris Pincher, an alleged serial sex offender, to a key government role, then lied about knowing about any allegations against Pincher.
Both abrupt resignations were partially blamed on Johnson’s blatant disregard for accountability. Rishi Sunak, the outgoing British finance minister, said the government was expected to meet some basic criteria of efficiency and seriousness. “I think these standards are worth fighting for and that’s why I’m resigning,” Sunak said. Sajid Javid, Johnson’s appointed health minister, said he could no longer serve in government “in good conscience”, adding that the British public “rightfully expects integrity from its government”. Conservative MP Chris Skidmore called Johnson’s actions “effective coverage of sexual assault” in a scathing open letter calling on colleagues to oust the prime minister on Wednesday.
Oddly enough, his close Cabinet colleagues suddenly find Johnson’s leadership unbearably lacking in integrity in the wake of the latest scandal. After all, Johnson committed offenses—and shunned them—in something like performance art. Before the Pincher scandal, Reports mysteriously vanish In the British media, British media claimed that Johnson tried to give a high-paying government job to his then-wife Carey when he was Foreign Secretary. Also in June, his ethics adviser resigned over a plan to protect British industry that would “deliberately violate” Johnson’s Ministerial Act. This came in the wake of the Partygate scandal, in which Johnson was found to have attended a series of alcohol-fueled shutdown parties inside Downing Street. And the list goes on and on.
So why the sudden ache about integrity? A double electoral defeat at the end of June – seen as an important gauge of Johnson’s popularity – may have something to do with it.
Other resignations followed those of Sunak and Juweed on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning – including the attorney general, two education ministers and even trade envoys to Kenya and Morocco – and more could be on the way. But while cabinet lawmakers’ bleeding of integrity may be enough to oust most prime ministers, this is Boris Johnson: the man who, according to his critics, turned the No. 10 into a machine to defend his interests rather than those of the British people. He quickly reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday evening to replace those who had left office and appears ready to cling to power.
At least until forced. After narrowly failing to oust Johnson in a no-confidence vote last month, rebellious Tory lawmakers are believed to be sharpening their knives again, fearing annihilation in the next general election if Johnson remains the leader. They will be emboldened by the high-profile resignations this week and will look to use party bases to launch a new bid to get rid of their prime minister.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Johnson could see the writing on the wall and quit on his own. But for now at least, it looks like Johnson’s Circus will last at least a little longer. The question is: for how long?