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“The will of the parliamentarians of the Conservative Party is clear for there to be a new party leader and, therefore, a new prime minister.”
With this statement, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation this Thursday, after the latest scandal that shook his government and caused a cascade of resignations in the executive.
“I want to thank you, the British public, for the immense privilege you have given me,” he said, before adding that no one is “remote indispensable” and expressing sadness at leaving what he called “the best job in the world.”
Johnson retired as leader of his formation but said he will continue as prime minister until his party chooses a successor.
He pointed out that he has agreed with the leader of the group of Conservative deputies without portfolio, Graham Brady, that the process to replace him must begin immediately, with a timetable to be announced next week.
Johnson explained that he tried to persuade his colleagues that “it would be eccentric to change governments when we are accomplishing so much and when we have such a broad mandate,” stressing that he is leaving because he was forced by his own government team, not by the personal conviction of having failed in its task.
He will leave Downing Street – the residence of the British prime minister – less than three years after being elected by a large majority in the December 2019 elections.
Prior to his statement, Labor leader Keir Starmer demanded that Johnson resign as prime minister. immediately and added that it is not fair for the country to remain in office.
“He has to go, he can’t hang on,” Starmer said.
“Their own party decided that the time has come, so they cannot impose it on the country for the next few months.”
Historical wave of resignations
Johnson’s decision comes after two days in which more than 50 members of the executive resigned.
The first were the Ministers of Economy and Health, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javidwho tendered their resignations on Tuesday over Johnson’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against the Conservative MP Chris Pincher.
Later he was followed by other ministers, deputy ministers and other minor government officials.
And it comes just a month after the prime minister faced a no-confidence motion in parliament in which 41% of lawmakers from his own party voted against him.
That attempt to remove him took place after photos and evidence of meetings and celebrations at the seat of government came to light while the rest of the country was confined by the restrictions imposed by Johnson’s own executive during the pandemic.
On June 30, the British newspaper The Sun published that Pincher, then deputy leader of the Conservative Party caucus in Parliament, had groped two men in a private club in London.
Pincher, who had been appointed to that position by Johnson in February of this year in the midst of an Executive reshuffle, resigned immediately.
The story then focused on what Boris Johnson knew about Pincher and how long he had known about it.
Ministers and Johnson’s spokesman had insisted for days that the prime minister was unaware of the specific allegations against Pincher when he appointed him deputy parliamentary chief.
But on Monday night that story collapsed: BBC political correspondent Ione Wells revealed that Johnson had in fact received a formal complaint about “inappropriate behaviour” from Pincher when he was Minister of State for Europe and the Americas in the British Foreign Office in 2019 and 2020.
On Tuesday, Simon McDonald, a former senior Foreign Office official, said in a dramatic public intervention that Johnson had been informed of the complaint in person.
Downing Street later told reporters that Johnson did indeed know, but had “forgotten”.
On Tuesday the prime minister admitted that appointing Pincher had been a “big mistake”.
But the damage was already done and the wave of resignations was unleashed.
That a prime minister resigns does not imply automatic general elections.
The party and, therefore, its leader will be able to continue in government for the period for which he was originally elected.
What happens in the UK is that until a successor is found, the outgoing prime minister is expected to continue in office.
For this, an established process is followed.
Once a Conservative leader resigns, the election of a new party leader is triggered.
The timetable for the election is decided by the 1922 Committee, a powerful group of Conservatives that makes the party’s decisions.
Under current rules, candidates need the support of eight Conservative MPs to stand.
Whoever wins the race to lead the Conservatives will become leader of the party that currently holds the largest number of seats in Parliament.
When that person is elected, Boris Johnson will offer his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II and she, in turn, will summon the new party leader whom she will ask to form a government.
A short speech, but not a quick exit
Iain Watson, BBC Political Correspondent
The prime minister’s speech was brief, but his departure from government will not necessarily be swift.
Johnson wanted history to know that his resignation was the fault of his colleagues and not his own. The “herd”, as he described it, moved fastdespite the fact that he achieved the party’s biggest electoral victory since 1987 in the 2019 elections, attracting new voters.
The message he sends them between the lines is that the coalition of voters he built in 2019, including those who previously supported the Labor Party, could break apart without him.
Johnson referred to the “bad press” he has received recently, but did not spend time on any of the mistakes he may have made that led to the massive wave of resignations and internal vote of confidence.
He simply acknowledged that he did not persuade his fellow ranks that must remain in power.
Johnson will continue until a new leader is elected, but it is the 1922 Committee that will decide when and some members of his party want the process to be accelerated so that he does not stay in government until the fall.
With the new members of the government, Boris Johnson does not seem to be in a hurry to leave. He won’t want to leave a legacy tarnished by these chaotic last days.
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