Boris Johnson resigns as British PM, will serve until new leader is in place

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LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Mr Boris Johnson said on Thursday (July 7) he was resigning as Britain’s prime minister after three years, bowing to calls from ministerial colleagues and lawmakers in his Conservative Party.

"It's clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of the party and therefore a new prime minister," he said at the door of Number 10 Downing Street.

“The process of choosing that new leader should begin now."

In his statement, Mr Johnson thanked the British public for voting for his party in 2019.

“So I want to say to the millions of people who voted for us in 2019, many of them voting Conservative for the first time: Thank you for that incredible mandate, the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, the biggest share of the vote since 1979," he said.

“I’m immensely proud of the achievements of this government: from getting Brexit done to settling our relations with the continent for over half a century," Mr Johnson said.

"Reclaiming the power for this country to make its own laws in parliament, getting us all through the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown, and in the last few months, leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.”

He added that "in the last few days, I’ve tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much".

Mr Johnson said it was "painful not to see my term through", and that he was sad to be giving up the "best job in the world but them's the breaks".

Mr Johnson said that even if things "seem dark now, our future together is golden", and that until a new PM takes over, the "public's interests will be served".

Mr Johnson will stay on as caretaker prime minister until October, with a new Conservative leader set to be installed in time for the party’s annual conference.

He started appointing new ministers to his Cabinet, including a third education secretary in three days.

Mr Johnson, who has been forced to step down after his ministers and Conservative lawmakers quit or withdrew their support, appointed Mr Greg Clark as "levelling up’" secretary and Mr James Cleverly to the post of education minister.

Reflecting the turmoil playing out at the heart of British power, Mr Johnson had moved Mr Nadhim Zahawi from education secretary to run the finance ministry on Tuesday night. By Wednesday Mr Zahawi had told Mr Johnson to quit and by Thursday he went public with that call.

The Prime Minister also appointed Ms Michelle Donelan as minister for education, to replace Mr Zahawi, on Tuesday evening, but she had quit by Thursday morning, saying Mr Johnson needed to go.

Mr Johnson was abandoned by newly appointed ministers and more than 50 others in a rebellion that had left the government dangerously close to paralysis.

With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning in the last two hours, an isolated and powerless Mr Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare he was stepping down later, media reports said.

After days of battling for his job, Mr Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of allies. It was far cry from when Mr Johnson, 58, rose to power in 2019, when he won a large majority, capturing votes in parts of Britain that had never supported his Conservative Party before.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.” 

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In a sign of his evaporating support over one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, Mr Johnson’s finance minister, Mr Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, had called on his boss to resign.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” he said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defence minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

Mr Wallace is also the favourite among Conservative party members to be the next party leader, the results of a YouGov poll showed on Thursday.

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arrives at 10 Downing Street on July 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis.

However, Paymaster General Michael Ellis said Britain continues to have a functioning government. 

"We must continue to serve our country... It is our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government. This is true now more than ever," Mr Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office department which oversees the running of government, said.  

Mr Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said on Thursday that news of Mr Johnson’s expected resignation was “good news for the country”.

“We don’t need to change the Tory at the top – we need a proper change of government,” Mr Starmer said. “We need a fresh start for Britain.” 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the news: “There will be a widespread sense of relief that the chaos of the last few days (indeed months) will come to an end, though notion of Boris Johnson staying on as PM until autumn seems far from ideal, and surely not sustainable?”

The ebullient Mr Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Britain’s departure from the European Union and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

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The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Mr Johnson had to apologise after it emerged that he was briefed that Mr Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict Covid-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defence of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

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