It took the resignation of nearly 60 members of his cabinet – nearly half the salaries – for Johnson to finally give up his attempts to cling to power. Until then, the prime minister has insisted he will continue as interim leader while the Conservative Party launches the process of selecting a successor.
Some senior figures in his party say that even that would not be sustainable, as fewer people are willing to work with him.
Others are already lining up to replace him. Party officials say they will announce the timetable for the leadership election by Monday.
Speaking in front of the famous door of 10 Downing Street, the same place where many of his predecessors gave their letter of resignation, Johnson announced that he was stepping down – without saying the words out loud.
“It is now clear that the will of the Conservative Parliament is that there should be a new leader for that party and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson said.
“The process of selecting that new leader must start now,” he added, noting that the timetable would be announced next week.
In a sign that he plans to remain in office as long as possible, Johnson announced that he had appointed a new government “to serve, as I shall, until a new leader takes office”. The appointment of new ministers means that the government can continue to operate while he prepares to leave.
Johnson spoke of his attempts to remain as a leader and how “painful” it was to step down, but he made no mention of the scandals that proved his political downfall.
“In the past few days, I’ve tried to convince my colleagues that it would be strange to change governments when we do so much … and when the economic landscape is very difficult both domestically and internationally,” Johnson said.
“I regret that I did not succeed in these arguments, and of course, it hurts not to be able to see so many ideas and projects for myself,” he said, adding that he was proud of “finishing Brexit” and “leading the West in the face of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.” .
Johnson went on to address voters directly, expressing his sadness at stepping down after nearly three years.
“To you, the British people: I know there will be a lot of people who are relieved, and maybe some will be disappointed,” he said. “And I want you to know how sad I am to give up the best job in the world, but these are the breaks.”
Johnson initially tried to get out of the crisis – despite the unprecedented desertion of mid-ranking ministers from the government, the beating of the prime minister’s questions, and agonizing appearances before a panel of top lawmakers in Parliament. On Wednesday, he still insisted he would not resign.
But Johnson finally gave in on Thursday after some of his most loyal allies told him it was game over.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Johnson had made the “right decision” to resign. “We need calm and unity now and continue ruling until a new leader is found,” she added.
Greg Clark, Britain’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Settlement, Housing and Communities, said he had “a duty to ensure that there was a functioning government in the country”.
The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, said Johnson’s decision to resign was “good news for the country”, adding that it “should have happened long ago”.
“He was always unfit for office,” Starmer said on Twitter. “He was responsible for lies, scandals and fraud on an industrial scale.”
The opposition leader also directed harsh words to the conservatives. “They’ve been in power for 12 years,” Starmer said. “The damage they’ve done is profound. Twelve years of economic stagnation. Twelve years of deteriorating public services. Twelve years of empty promises.”
“That’s enough. We don’t need a Conservative change at the top – we need a proper change of government. We need a fresh start for Britain.”
But some said Johnson should leave office more quickly.
“We now need a new leader as soon as practicable,” Business and Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarting said on Twitter. “Someone who can rebuild trust, heal the country, and devise a new, reasonable and consistent economic approach to helping families,” he added.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also called for the leadership question to be settled.
“There will be a widespread sense of relief that the chaos of the past few days (already months) will be over, even though the idea of Boris Johnson staying as prime minister until the fall seems far from ideal, and certainly not sustainable?” Sturgeon said in a series of tweets.
Conservative MP Steve Baker told CNN the party needed to “move quickly to fight the leadership contest”.
Baker said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab should be interim prime minister, but Johnson could also continue in office. Raab has been elected for Johnson in the past: when the prime minister was in intensive care with Covid-19 in April 2020, and then again briefly last month when Johnson underwent a “routine” operation and underwent general anesthesia.
“I am absolutely determined not to prolong this crisis,” Baker told CNN. “If it is agreed within the government that Boris Johnson should continue as a caretaker, that’s fine for me.” “Because we just need to end the crisis, enter the driving contest and start over in September.”
Former British Prime Minister John Major said it would be “unwise and potentially unsustainable” for Johnson to remain in office for an extended period pending the selection of a new Conservative leader.
barrage of criticism
Johnson’s departure would mark the marked downfall of a prime minister who was once seen as wielding great political powers, with an allure that crossed traditional partisan lines.
He scored a landslide victory in December 2019 on a promise to deliver a Brexit deal and lead the UK to a bright future outside the EU. But his premiership collapsed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In recent months, the prime minister has faced a barrage of criticism from all sides over his behavior and that of some members of his government, including the illegal parties breaking the Covid-19 lockdown thrown into his Downing Street offices for which he and others have been fined. .
Several other scandals hit his position at the polls. These include accusations of improperly using donor money to pay for the renovations of his Downing Street home and ordering MPs to vote in a way that protects a colleague who violated lobbying rules.
Last month, he survived a vote of confidence among his party members, but the final count of MPs who revolted against him was higher than his supporters expected: 41% of his parliamentary party refused to support him.
He suffered another blow late last month when his party lost a parliamentary by-election in one night, raising new questions about his leadership.
His reputation was also damaged by the resignation of his second moral advisor in less than two years.
CNN’s Lauren Kent and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.
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