What a difference a day makes. Following yesterday’s bellicose pronouncement before the U.K. Parliament that he would not resign as prime minister because of the “colossal mandate” given to him by voters, Boris Johnson announced his decision to step down as leader of the Conservative Party — and, by extension, leave the office of prime minister.
Johnson’s departure will not be immediate. A successor as the head of the Conservative Party needs to be named, and the process could take weeks. And in announcing his resignation, Johnson stubbornly refused to take any blame for the circumstances that resulted in his own party revolting against him.
What Happened: Speaking today before the prime minister’s residence of 10 Downing Street in London, Johnson acknowledged that “it is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister.”
Johnson simultaneously belittled the rising level of opposition within his party to his continued leadership, sarcastically comparing his fellow Conservatives to an animal stampede.
“As we have seen at Westminster … when the herd moves, it moves,” he said. “And my friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable.”
Johnson also ran a list of his achievements as prime minister, including the completion of the Brexit process, the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and his support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.
He said it would be “eccentric” to change the government through a new general election in the wake of the Conservatives’ landslide victory in the 2019 general election.
“I know there are many people who are relieved, and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed,” he added. “I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”
What Went Wrong: Johnson has always been a polarizing political figure in his blunt behavior, first during his 2008-2016 tenure as London’s mayor and during his 2016-2018 tenure as foreign minister. He became Conservative Party leader and prime minister in July 2019 following Theresa May’s resignation amid growing public unhappiness on how she was handling the Brexit process that withdrew the U.K. from the European Union.
During the last few years, Brexit also became a thorn in Johnson's side, particularly in regard to his handling of the border issue involving Northern Ireland and Ireland. News that his office broke local laws in hosting parties during the period of COVID lockdowns, which was dubbed “Partygate” by the U.K. media, resulted in Johnson being fined, a first for a prime minister.
Johnson's response to the fraying of the U.K. economy amid the new inflationary environment further diminished his popularity with voters. Although he survived a vote of no confidence in a Conservative Party gathering in May, Johnson was raucously booed last month by the crowds gathered outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Platinum Jubilee prayer service, the sole sour spot in an otherwise festive event.
Johnson’s career-killing problems began after Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher resigned last week following complaints that he groped two men at a private club. The report on Pincher’s behavior triggered a wave of additional accusations of problematic past behavior. Johnson promoted Pincher in February and initially said he was unaware of the accusations against him, though he apologized to the members of Parliament yesterday.
“I greatly regret that he continued in office,” Johnson said. “In hindsight I should have realized he would not change.”
But this was not enough, as 21 ministers and parliamentary secretaries in his government resigned in a 24-hour period.
With Johnson’s resignation, a new meeting of Conservative Party officials needs to be scheduled to choose a successor.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the U.K. Prime Minister.
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