Boris Johnson vows to continue work amid wave of cabinet resignations

LONDON. With his support crumbling, his government in disarray, his alibis exhausted, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was desperate to salvage his position on Wednesday, even as a delegation of cabinet colleagues traveled to Downing Street to plead with their scandal-ridden leader to step down.

By Thursday morning, more than 50 ministers or government aides had quit. The day before, several Conservative MPs had called on Mr. Johnson to resign, and he received a scathing reception in Parliament, where backbenchers derided “Bye, Boris!” when he walked out the side door after being relentlessly interrogated about how he handled the latest sex and bullying scandal at the party.

Amid the rush of events, Mr. Johnson vowed to keep fighting, insisting he had a mandate from the electorate to steer the UK into its post-Brexit future, even as rebellious cabinet ministers tried to unseat him.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Johnson fired one of his closest advisers, Michael Gove, from his powerful economic cabinet post. Earlier in the day, the BBC reported that M. Gove urged Mr. Johnson to resign.

This dramatic moment was followed by the overnight resignation of another cabinet minister, Simon Hart, Secretary of Wales.

Elsewhere in Westminster, lawmakers were considering – and then postponing for at least a few days – a change to the party’s charter that would allow for another vote of confidence, possibly next week, against the prime minister, who experienced this vote just a month ago.

There is a growing consensus that, however events unfold over the next few hours or days, the curtain on the Boris Johnson era is falling. Less than three years after he stepped onto Downing Street before riding a wave of pro-Brexit passion. win a landslide victory in an election, mr. Johnson seemed cornered – the versatile political player had finally lost his turn.

This does not mean that the end will come quickly or beautifully. mr. Johnson resisted calls from the cabinet delegation to resign. He does not rule out the possibility of holding early elections to decide his fate for British voters. Such a move would require the consent of Queen Elizabeth II, which could provoke a political crisis.

“The job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he has been given a colossal mandate, is to keep moving forward,” Mr. C. Johnson said with a grim face in Parliament, rejecting another call for his resignation.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer brushed it off by criticizing Mr. Trump. Johnson and cabinet ministers who have yet to step down as prime minister after a seemingly endless stream of scandals. The last chapter of this drama began on Tuesday with resignations of two high-ranking ministers.

“Someone who quits now, after having defended all this, has no concept of honesty,” Mr. Starmer, leader of the Labor Party, glares across the table at Mr. Johnson. “Isn’t this the first recorded case of a sinking ship escaping from rats?”

Despite all the drama in Parliament, Wednesday’s real action took place out of sight, where Mr. Johnson’s dwindling band of supporters and a growing mob of opponents were manoeuvring. mr. Johnson’s dismissal of Mr. Gove was specifically blamed because in 2016 Gove derailed Mr. Johnson’s first bid for leadership of the Tory party, unexpectedly entering the contest itself.

The latest chapter of the crisis began on Tuesday when two senior cabinet ministers abruptly resigned: Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid. The trigger was Mr. Johnson’s handling of a case involving Chris Pincher, a Conservative MP who admitted to being drunk at a private club in London, where he is said to have groped two men.

On Thursday, the flow of resignations continued. Brandon Lewis Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Helen Whatelysecretary of the treasury; Damian Hinds, Minister of Security; as well as George Freemanthe science minister, among those who announced on Twitter that they were resigning and shared their letters to the prime minister.

Given the speed with which Mr. Johnson’s government has been falling apart, many Conservative lawmakers believe that Mr. Johnson needs to be replaced quickly to mitigate the damage to the party from the election. Even before the latest scandal erupted, opinion polls showed that the Conservatives were well behind Labour.

The dilemma for senior party officials was whether to allow a quick vote of no confidence in Mr. C. Johnson. According to the existing party charter, such a vote can only be held a year after the last one – in June of the next year.

But the leaders of the 1922 Committee, which represents conservative lawmakers ready to rip their rulebook before: when Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, won a vote of confidence in 2018 but then failed to push her Brexit plan through a jammed parliament.

According to Graham Brady, chairman of the committee, he had the proposed rule change in his pocket when he went to meet the prime minister, but he never showed it to Mrs. Wilson. May, who agreed to step aside.

This time, in an accelerated scenario, lawmakers will hold a vote of confidence before the summer holidays. If Mr. Johnson loses, they will quickly select two leading candidates to replace him as party leader and prime minister. Then the two applicants will participate in the final competition, in which the choice will be made by party members.

Tobias Ellwood, a former minister and critic of Mr Johnson, said he had doubts about the rule change, but he believes it will happen if the prime minister refuses to go it alone. He compared the change in leadership to going to the dentist.

“We put it off,” he said. “You have to go to the dentist and go through this – get rid of Boris and have this trip to the dentist.”

Move fast, Mr. Ellwood said the party will allow the summer break to be used for leadership elections and give the new prime minister a platform at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in the fall. It looked more likely as the situation worsened for Mr. Johnson on Wednesday, when more than 30 junior ministers and their aides resigned.

At one point, five junior ministers resigned in the same resignation letter, including Equality and Local Government Minister Kemi Badenoch and Neil O’Brien, the minister in charge of Mr. “equalization” of welfare throughout the country.

Downing Street was unable to provide a replacement schedule for others who said they could no longer serve Mr. Johnson, including Treasury Secretary John Glen and his Home Office counterpart Victoria Atkins.

mr. Johnson was quick to announce the replacement of Mr. Sunak and Mr. Javid, signaling that he planned to try to strengthen the government. And he did his best to create a defiant image.

Faced with the prospect of a new vote of confidence, Mr. Johnson could call a general election instead, even if his party’s prospects are bleak. The prime minister has repeatedly reminded critics of his party’s landslide victory in 2019, when he vowed to “get Brexit through” and crushed the fractured Labor Party.

Constitutional experts say the Queen could refuse to hold an election on the grounds that the Conservatives still have a large parliamentary majority. However, turning down such a request could be difficult for Buckingham Palace, which prides itself on being above politics. What’s more, the Labor Party is aiming for an election and will gladly take on a discredited prime minister.

But above all it is Mr. Johnson’s Houdin-like instincts. Over the past three years, he has survived numerous investigations, a criminal fine from the police and a vote of no confidence among conservative lawmakers. He may believe that he can escape again.

“Unlike most leaders, he doesn’t care how much damage he causes when he walks out the door,” said Jonathan Powell, who served as former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff. “There is no one in our history who has such a nature. Our system is not designed for something like this.”