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Boris Johnson on the brink as ministers quit, who could replace him?

british pm johnson meets new zealand pm ardern, in london
A growing number of lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party have said the game is up for Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face questions in parliament followed by a grilling by senior lawmakers on Wednesday, with his premiership on the brink after a slew of resignations from ministers saying he was not fit to govern.

Johnson’s finance and health secretaries quit on Tuesday, along with a number of junior ministers, saying they could no longer stay in government in the wake of the latest of a series of scandals to have blighted his administration in recent months.

A growing number of lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party have said the game is up for Johnson. But he showed his determination to remain in office by appointing Nadhim Zahawi, previously education minister, as his new finance minister, and filling some of the other vacancies.

The level of hostility he is confronting from within his own party will be laid bare later when he appears before lawmakers for his weekly question session, before later facing the chairs of parliamentary committees for a scheduled two-hour grilling.

“I suspect we will have to drag him kicking and screaming from Downing Street,” one Conservative lawmaker told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But if we have to do it that way then we will.”

Johnson’s leadership has been mired in scandals and missteps over the last few months, with the prime minister fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws and a damning report published about the behaviour of officials at his Downing Street office who breached lockdown rules.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defence of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticisms that he has not done enough to tackle a cost-of-living crisis, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

The latest scandal saw Johnson apologising for appointing a lawmaker to a role involved in offering pastoral care and handling party discipline, even after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.

It prompted Rishi Sunak to quit as Chancellor of the Exchequer – finance minister – and Sajid Javid to resign as Health Secretary, while half a dozen others left their junior ministerial or envoy roles.

LOST CONFIDENCE

“It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too,” Javid’s resignation letter said.

A snap YouGov poll found 69% of Britons thought Johnson should step down as prime minister but for the time being the remainder of his top ministerial team offered their backing.

“I fully support the prime minister,” Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said. “I am sorry to see good colleagues resign, but we have a big job of work to do, and that’s what we’re getting on with.”

A month ago Johnson survived a confidence vote of Conservative lawmakers, and party rules mean he cannot face another such challenge for a year.

However, some lawmakers are seeking to change those rules, while he is also under investigation from a parliamentary committee over whether he lied to parliament about COVID-19 lockdown breaches.

Only two-and-a-half years ago, the ebullient Johnson won a huge parliamentary majority on a promise to sort out Britain‘s exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.

But since then his initial handling of the pandemic was widely criticised, and the government has lurched from one predicament to another.

Although Johnson has won wider plaudits for his support of Ukraine, it has not materialised into a boost in opinion polls, which show the Conservatives trailing the opposition Labour Party and his own popularity ratings at all time lows.

If UK PM Boris Johnson is ousted, who could replace him?

Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned in quick succession on Tuesday, in moves that put the future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in peril after a series of scandals that have damaged his administration.

Below is a summary of some of those who could be in the frame to replace him should he reign or be ousted:

LIZ TRUSS

The foreign secretary is the darling of the Conservatives’ grassroots and has regularly topped polls of party members carried out by the website Conservative Home.

Truss has a carefully cultivated public image and was photographed in a tank last year, evoking a famous 1986 image of Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was also captured in such a pose.

The 46-year-old spent the first two years of Johnson’s premiership as international trade secretary, championing Brexit, and last year was appointed as Britain’s lead negotiator with the European Union.

Truss said on Monday Johnson has her “100% backing” and she urged colleagues to support him.

JEREMY HUNT

The former foreign secretary, 55, finished second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest. He would offer a more serious and less controversial style of leadership after the turmoil of Johnson’s premiership.

Over the last two years, Hunt has used his experience as a former health secretary to chair the health select committee and has not been tarnished by having served in the current government.

Earlier this year, he said his ambition to become prime minister “hasn’t completely vanished”. Hunt said he would vote to oust Johnson in a confidence vote last month which Johnson narrowly won. Read full story

BEN WALLACE

Defence minister Ben Wallace, 52, has risen in recent months to be the most popular member of the government with Conservative Party members, according to Conservative Home, thanks to his handling of the Ukraine crisis.

A former soldier himself, he served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1992.

He began his political career as a member of Scotland’s devolved assembly in May 1999, before being first elected to the Westminster parliament in 2005.

He was security minister from 2016 until taking on his current role three years later, winning plaudits for his department’s role in the evacuation of British nationals and allies from Afghanistan last year, and the sending of weapons to Kyiv during the recent war in Ukraine.

RISHI SUNAK

The finance minister was until last year the favourite to succeed Johnson. Sunak was praised for a rescue package for the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, including a jobs retention programme, which prevented mass unemployment, that could cost as much as 410 billion pounds ($514 billion).

But he has faced criticism for not giving enough cost-of-living support to households, his wealthy wife’s non-domiciled tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules.

His tax-and-spend budget last year put Britain on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, undermining his claims to favour lower taxes.

He quit the government on Tuesday saying “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

NADHIM ZAHAWI

The current education secretary impressed as vaccines minister when Britain had one of the fastest rollouts of COVID-19 jabs in the world.

Zahawi’s personal story as a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child sets him apart from other Conservative contenders.

He went on to co-found polling company YouGov before entering parliament in 2010. He said last week at some stage it would be a “privilege” to be prime minister.

PENNY MORDAUNT

The former defence secretary was sacked by Johnson when he became prime minister after she backed his rival Hunt during the last leadership contest.

Mordaunt was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union and made national headlines by taking part in now-defunct reality TV diving show.

Currently a junior trade minister, Mordaunt called the lockdown-breaking parties in government “shameful”. She said voters wanted to see “professionalism and competence” from the government.

She had previously expressed loyalty to Johnson.

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