Boris Johnson 'desperately clinging on to his own fantasy' as resignations mount

He told MPs in the House Of Commons: 'The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when he has been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going and that’s what I’m going to do'
Boris Johnson 'desperately clinging on to his own fantasy' as resignations mount

British prime minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Boris Johnson defied calls to resign despite a fresh wave of ministerial resignations in Britain and signs that support on the Tory backbenches is ebbing away.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has reportedly told the prime minister he must step down.

The Daily Mail reported that Mr Gove delivered the message at a meeting on Wednesday morning, citing sources.

The newspaper said a spokesman for Mr Gove did not dispute this.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the “colossal mandate” he had been handed by voters in 2019 meant he should keep going despite the “difficult circumstances” he faced.

His appearance in the House of Commons came after five more government ministers quit on Wednesday and criticism of Mr Johnson’s Tory leadership mounted.

Tory Tim Loughton asked Mr Johnson if there were “any circumstances” in which he should resign.

Mr Johnson replied: “Clearly if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we have been given or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people… then I would.

“But frankly the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when he has been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going and that’s what I’m going to do.” 

But Tory MP Gary Sambrook told Mr Johnson directly: “There is nothing left for him but to take responsibility and resign.”

While SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "He really ought to see the faces behind him because, prime minister, it really is over. The prime minister is desperately clinging on to his own fantasy."

Tory backbenchers including Anna Firth, Aaron Bell, Nickie Aiken and Andrew Bowie have requested a new vote of confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership and asked him to resign.

Resignations in past 24 hours 

- Sajid Javid , Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 

- Rishi Sunak , Chancellor of the Exchequer 

- Andrew Murrison , trade envoy to Morocco 

- Bim Afolami , Conservative Party vice-chairman 

- Saqib Bhatti , parliamentary private secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care 

- Jonathan Gullis , parliamentary private secretary at the Northern Ireland Office 

- Nicola Richards , parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Transport 

- Virginia Crosbie , parliamentary private secretary at the Welsh Office 

- Theo Clarke , trade envoy to Kenya 

- Alex Chalk , solicitor general 

- Laura Trott , parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Transport 

- Will Quince , parliamentary under-secretary of state for children and families at the Department for Education 

- Robin Walker , minister of state for school standards at the Department for Education 

- Felicity Buchan , parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 

- John Glen , minister of state at the Treasury 

- Victoria Atkins , minister of state for prisons and probation at the Ministry of Justice

- Jo Churchill , Junior minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

- Stuart Andrew , minister of state for housing at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

- Selaine Saxby , ministerial aide 

- Claire Coutinho , parliamentary private secretary to the Treasury

- David Johnston , ministerial aide in the Department for Education

- Kemi Badenoch , Minister of State for Levelling Up Communities and Minister of State for Equalities 

- Julia Lopez , Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure 

- Mims Davies , Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment 

- Lee Rowley , Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Industry 

- Neil O'Brien , Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 

- Alex Burghart , Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills at the Department for Education

- Duncan Baker , Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

- Mike Freer , Minister for Exports and Minister for Equalities

The string of resignations on Wednesday morning followed a number of departures from the British government on Tuesday evening, led by Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid who delivered broadsides at Mr Johnson as they quit their cabinet posts.

Former health secretary Mr Javid is expected to add to Mr Johnson’s difficulties with a personal statement in the Commons on Wednesday.

This will come after the Conservative leader faces a potentially difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions, while he will also have to endure a grilling by the Liaison Committee of select committee chairmen and women – including some senior Tory critics.

Picture: Will Quince/PA Wire
Picture: Will Quince/PA Wire

Mr Sunak’s replacement as Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, hinted at reversing a planned rise in corporation tax as part of the effort to restore trust between the leadership and Tory MPs.

But the Cabinet reshuffle does not appear to have persuaded Mr Johnson’s critics to hold fire.

Mr Quince was one of the ministers sent on the airwaves to defend Mr Johnson’s position over Chris Pincher, who quit as deputy chief whip after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London’s Carlton Club.

Mr Johnson later acknowledged he had previously been informed of allegations against Mr Pincher dating back to 2019 and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that point.

Mr Quince said he had received a “sincere apology” from Mr Johnson for being sent out with an “inaccurate” briefing about Mr Johnson's knowledge of events.

But “I have no choice but to tender my resignation” as “I accepted and repeated those assurances in good faith”.

Mr Walker’s resignation letter to Mr Johnson said: “Recent events have made it clear to me that our great party, for which I have campaigned all of my adult life, has become distracted from its core missions by a relentless focus on questions over leadership.” 

The loss of Mr Sunak and Mr Javid “reflects a worrying narrowing of the broad church that I believe any Conservative government should seek to achieve”, he added.

I have always believed it is the job of our party to strike the right balance between efficiency and compassion, but the image being projected from the struggles of the last few months is that we risk achieving neither.”

Mr Johnson's authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support in June.

The loss of crunch by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield later that month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while there is still lingering anger over coronavirus lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

Tory MPs are also uneasy about the government’s high spending, high taxing approach as a result of the response to the pandemic.

Mr Zahawi sought to reassure Conservatives that “nothing is off the table” when questioned about possibly scrapping the planned increase in corporation tax from 19% to 25% in April 2023.

“I will look at everything. There’s nothing off the table. I want to be one of the most competitive countries in the world for investment,” he told Sky News.

“I know that boards around the world, when they make investment decisions, they’re long-term, and the one tax they can compare globally is corporation tax. 

"I want to make sure that we are as competitive as we can be whilst maintaining fiscal discipline.” 

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi arrives at the HM Treasury in Westminster, following his appointment after Rishi Sunak resigned from the post on Tuesday. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi arrives at the HM Treasury in Westminster, following his appointment after Rishi Sunak resigned from the post on Tuesday. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Mr Quince’s resignation came as Mr Zahawi toured the broadcast studios and the Chancellor told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “He felt let down, clearly. All I would say to my colleagues is, people don’t vote for divided teams.” 

But the Chancellor said he believed Mr Johnson had integrity and was “determined to deliver for this country”.

Mr Zahawi denied reports he had threatened to resign if he was not offered the job of Chancellor, saying “that is not true”.

Mr Johnson’s fate may ultimately lie with backbench MPs if the Tory 1922 Committee’s rules are changed to allow another confidence vote within 12 months.

Elections to the committee’s ruling executive are expected next week, which could then lead to a decision on changing the rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling to maintain a grip on power in No 10 as ministers and aides continue to quit his Government in protest at his leadership. Picture: Justin Tallis/PA
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling to maintain a grip on power in No 10 as ministers and aides continue to quit his Government in protest at his leadership. Picture: Justin Tallis/PA

West Dorset MP Chris Loder has said he believes the “majority” of people in the Conservative Party want to see “change” after a tumultuous week.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I personally have lost confidence in the prime minister now and I’m very sorry to say that. I think he does need to go.

“I think if he chooses not to, I think the 1922 Committee should act and I certainly would support that approach in the forthcoming 1922 elections.” 

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves welcomed the resignation of government ministers, but told Today: “What has taken them so long?

“Because all of those ministers, they backed the prime minister, when he had to apologise to the Queen for the industrial-scale partying at No 10, when suitcases of wine were being wheeled in, when he broke international law and when he tried to change the rules in Parliament to keep his friend and colleague Owen Paterson as an MP.”

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox