Some critics say it’s curtains for this prime minister. But his demise has been predicted many times before, as he has faced one political scandal after another — including over boozy parties held at his Downing Street offices in violation of his government’s own pandemic lockdown rules. Johnson became the first sitting prime minister found to have broken the law, and he still faces an investigation that he lied to Parliament about the festivities.
Tuesday’s resignations came in connection with a different controversy: Johnson’s appointment of Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher to a key government post, despite earlier accusations of misconduct.
Sunak tweeted, “The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Javid wrote in his resignation letter that although Johnson survived a vote of no-confidence last month, the ruling Conservative Party was no longer demonstrating competence nor acting in the national interest.
“It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership,” he wrote to Johnson, “and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”
Johnson in February named Pincher the deputy chief whip in the House of Commons, a leadership role that saw him charged with keeping Conservative Party members — the raucous “backbenchers” — behind the prime minister and his government’s legislative agenda.
But Pincher last week resigned from that post after confessing in a letter to Johnson that he had “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people” at a gathering. The British press reported the incident occurred at the Carlton Club, a private watering hole in London, dominated by Conservative Party members.
While intoxicated, Pincher allegedly tried to grope several men, the U.K. press widely reported. Witnesses told the BBC the Pincher was “extremely drunk.”
This is not Pincher’s first time in trouble — and that is what has gotten in Johnson in trouble.
The prime minister admitted that he had been informed of earlier accusations about Pincher’s alleged misconduct back in 2019 (which Pincher has denied). At first, Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister did not know of earlier incidents, only to backtrack later to say they the boss had been informed.
“There is no place for anyone in this government who abuses power,” Johnson said in an apology on Tuesday. “I bitterly regret the decision not to … intervene.”
Asked by the BBC if he once joked, “Pincher by name, pincher by nature,” the prime minister didn’t deny using the phrase.
Johnson, who has made it clear he’s going nowhere unless shoved, moved swiftly to fill the cabinet vacancies, appointing Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi as the new chancellor and Downing Street chief of staff Steve Barclay as health secretary. He also tapped Michelle Donelan as the replacement for the education post.
As the night wore on, all eyes were on other cabinet members to see if Sunak and Javid would be the only ones to resign — or the start of a wave. Sunak and Javid are both seen as potential rivals to Johnson.
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary tweeted: “I’m not sure anyone actually doubted this, however, I am 100 percent behind @BorisJohnson the PM who consistently gets all the big decisions right.”
Others didn’t tweet, but British media outlets signaled that the remaining top ministers were staying put for now.