London (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggled to stay in power on Wednesday after his government was shaken by the resignations of two top ministers who said they could no longer serve under his scandal-ridden leadership.
His first challenge is getting through Wednesday, as he faces tough questions in Parliament’s weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session, and a long-scheduled questioning by a panel of top lawmakers.
Months of discontent with Johnson’s rule and morals erupted within the ruling Conservative Party with resignations Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid Within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening. “The public rightly expects the government to be run properly, efficiently and seriously,” Sunak said in a scathing resignation letter. “…I think these standards are worth fighting for and that’s why I’m resigning.”
Javid said the party needed “humility, a grip and a new direction” but “it is clear that this situation will not change under your leadership.”
Johnson quickly replaced the two ministers, promoting Nadim al-Zahawi from Education to Treasury and appointing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health minister.
But a string of resignations late Tuesday from more junior ministers – from the Liberal and right-wing branches of the Conservative Party – showed that the danger to Johnson was far from over.
In the past few months, Johnson has been fined by police and criticized by an investigative report on parties that have violated the government’s shutdown during the pandemic; He survived a no-confidence vote by his own party in which 41% of Conservative MPs voted to oust him; He witnessed loyal aides urging him to resign.
Through it all, he has vowed to continue ruling – even indicating his desire to stay in office until 2030.
The final straw for Sunak and Juweed was the prime minister’s shifting interpretations of his handling of the sexual misconduct scandal.
The latest scandal began last week when lawmaker Chris Pincher resigned as Tory vice-chairman amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club. This sparked a series of reports about previous allegations against Pincher and questions about why Johnson had been promoted to a senior position enforcing party discipline.
Johnson’s office initially said he was unaware of the earlier accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman for Johnson said Johnson was aware of allegations that had been “resolved or not lodged with a formal complaint”.
When a former senior State Department employee said Johnson was made aware of allegations against Pincher in 2019, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister had forgotten that Pincher was the subject of a formal complaint.
It has been so many ministers who have been sent out on radio and television to defend the government’s position, only to find that the situation is changing by the hour.
Pim Avulami, who resigned as Conservative Party deputy chairperson on Tuesday, said he was willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt, “but I think in the last few weeks we’ve seen that things haven’t improved. They have become a lot worse.”
“I think Downing Street’s behavior on the Chris Pincher case was really appalling. Personally, I couldn’t think I could defend that kind of behavior anymore,” he told the BBC.
Johnson’s party opponents hope more cabinet ministers will follow Sunak and Judd’s lead, though other top officials – including Secretary of State Liz Truss, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel – remain in their positions.
Opponents are also trying to force another vote of no confidence in the prime minister. The current rules require 12 months between those votes, but the rules are being drawn up by a powerful party committee – and elections for its executive branch are due in the next few weeks.
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