- BBC News World
After months of relentless political turmoil, Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned within 10 minutes of each other on Tuesday over the way Prime Minister Boris Johnson handled allegations of sexual misconduct against a British MP.
This triggered a trickle of resignations and letters of non-confidence from other ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentarians, which on Wednesday became an avalanche.
In the evening, a group of ministers went to Downing Street to try to persuade the president to resign.
But up to now, Johnson continues to cling to the position and assures that has no intention of resigningciting the “colossal” support received from voters in the last election.
Cabinet ally Jacob Rees-Mogg disparaged the campaign against him as a “storm”.
For his part, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell told the BBC: “It’s a bit like Rasputin’s death. He’s been poisoned, stabbed, shot, his body dumped in a frozen river, and he’s still alive.”
So… how did it get to this point?
A drunken night in Westminster
Last Thursday Noa Hoffman, a 24-year-old with only four days of work as a political reporter at the newspaper The Sunbroke the news that a Conservative MP had resigned as party leader after a drunken night at the private Carlton club.
In his resignation letter, Chris Pincher confessed to the prime minister that he “drank too much” and “embarrassed” himself “and other people”.
But the matter turned out to be much more serious: according to allegations, groped two men at the club and groped at least one of them.
Then, the government indicated to the media that Pincher had recognized this behavior, although he would keep his job as a deputy and would not face further reprisals.
But behind the scenes, Conservative MPs were furious.
Pincher had been the subject of similar allegations of sexual misconduct in the past. However, Johnson had placed him in a position of power as the party’s number two in Parliament.
How the official discourse changed
Then the story turned to what Boris Johnson knew about Pincher And since when did you know?
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 was in fact had received a formal complaint on “inappropriate behaviour” by Pincher when he was Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the British Foreign Office in 2019 and 2020.
On Tuesday, Sir Simon McDonald, a former senior Foreign Office official, said in a dramatic public address that Johnson had been informed of the complaint in person.
Downing Street later told reporters that Johnson did indeed know, but I had forgotten”.
On Tuesday the prime minister admitted that appointing Pincher had been a “big mistake”.
But the damage was done.
The discontent erupted when the Ministers of Economy and Health, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, resigned.
In his resignation letter, Sunak stated that citizens “expect in good judgment that the government will act properly, competently and seriously.”
In a subsequent statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Javid said – under Johnson’s gaze – that the problem “starts from the top” and that “that is not going to change”.
Will Johnson resign or call a general election?
Johnson appeared before members of the House of Commons on Wednesday determined to weather the storm.
Asked by a Conservative MP if there were any circumstances in which he would resign, he replied that he would “hold on”.
“Frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances, when you have been given a colossal mandate, is to carry on and that is what I am going to do,” he said, referring to his landslide victory in the 2019 general election.
The BBC’s Chris Mason described how authority could be felt, heard and smelled slipping away from Boris Johnson as opposition Labor MPs waved “bye-bye Boris” to him as he left Parliament.
Several cabinet ministers, including Interior Minister Priti Patel and Foreign Minister Nadhim Zahawi, are among those senior officials demanding resignation of Johnson.
The prime minister could also face a second no-confidence motion next week, after prominent MPs promised to change Conservative Party rules to allow it.
Some have suggested that Johnson could try to bolster his position by calling an early general election.
However, a YouGov poll published on Tuesday found that 69% of Britons and more than half of conservative voters believe Johnson should resign.
Therefore, an early general election would also carry great risks. Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom hangs, more than ever, in the balance.
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