Boris Johnson on Wednesday refused to step down as British prime minister despite a growing number of resignations from his controversial government, intensifying pressure as he faced attacks from angry MPs.
The 58-year-old leader’s power appears to be waning after 10 short minutes on Tuesday night when Rishi Sunak resigned as finance minister and Sajid Javid resigned as health minister.
Both said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal that had plagued Johnson for months, including the violation of the Downing Street lockdown law.
At the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions Meeting, dubbed the PMQ, in Parliament MPs surrounded Johnson from all sides.
But shrugging off calls to resign, he told MPs: “Frankly, the job of the Prime Minister in difficult circumstances, when you have been given a colossal mandate, is to keep going forward, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
After the meeting, Javid called on other ministers to resign. “The problem starts at the top and I believe that will not change,” he said.
“And that means that those of us who are in this position, who are responsible, must make this change.”
Shouts of “goodbye, Boris” echoed through the hall at the end of his speech.
The departure of Sunak and Javid triggered an avalanche of resignations of junior ministers and aides. The five junior ministers resigned in a joint letter within two hours of the end of the PMQ.
Johnson still faces many hours of interrogation in the chairs of the most powerful committees in the House of Commons, including some of his fiercest Tory critics.
Sunak and Javid resigned minutes after Johnson apologized for appointing a senior conservative who left office last week after he was accused of drunkenly assaulting two men.
Former education minister Nadhim Zahavi was immediately handed the financial summary and admitted he had a daunting task ahead of him.
“You don’t go into this job to have an easy life,” Zahavi told Sky News.
Days of shifting explanations followed the resignation of Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher.
Downing Street initially denied that Johnson was aware of the previous allegations against Pincher when he appointed him in February.
But by Tuesday, that defense had crumbled after a former senior government official said that Johnson, as foreign secretary, was told in 2019 of another incident involving his ally.
Children and Families Secretary Will Ivins resigned early Wednesday morning, saying he was given inaccurate information before having to defend the government in a series of media interviews on Monday.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, one of Johnson’s harshest critics, said the Pincher case had left many baffled.
“I and many of the members are now determined that he will be gone in time for the summer break,” which begins on July 22, he told Sky News.
Other senior cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace, continue to support Johnson.
But as the number of resignations grew, many wondered how long this could last.
A snap poll by Savanta ComRes on Wednesday found that three out of five Conservative voters say Johnson will fail to regain public confidence, while 72 percent think he should step down.
Johnson barely survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative MPs a month ago, which would normally have meant he could not be challenged again for another year.
But the influential “Committee of 1922” made up of non-ministerial Conservative MPs is reportedly seeking to change the rules, with its executive committee meeting later on Wednesday.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a stubbornly loyal cabinet ally and Johnson’s “minister on Brexit opportunities”, called the resignations “small local difficulties”.
Sunak’s departure, in particular in the midst of political controversy over the cost-of-living crisis engulfing Britain, is depressing news for Johnson.
The prime minister, who received a police fine for the so-called “Partygate” case, is facing a parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied to MPs about the revelations.
Pincher’s departure from the office of the Whips, tasked with enforcing party discipline and standards, marked another accusation of sexual harassment by the Tories in recent months, a reminder of the “meanness” that plagued John Major’s government in the 1990s.
Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned in April after he was caught watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons.
This prompted a by-election to his previously secure seat, which the party lost in a historic victory for the opposition Liberal Democrats.
The Labor Party, the main opposition party, defeated the Conservatives in another by-election in northern England on the same day, prompted by its Conservative MP’s conviction for sexual harassment.