Prime Minister Boris Johnson was defiantly hanging onto power on Thursday despite the resignation of four top ministers and a seemingly unstoppable revolt by his own lawmakers, threatening to paralyse the British government.
More than 50 ministers have quit the government in less than 48 hours, saying Johnson was not fit to be in charge after a series of scandals, while dozens in his Conservative Party are in open revolt.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, became the latest Cabinet minister to quit early on Thursday, following the resignations of the finance, health and Welsh ministers.
“I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now,” Lewis said. It is clear that our party, parliamentary colleagues, volunteers and the whole country, deserve better.”
A delegation of senior ministers and a senior figure representing Conservative lawmakers who are not in government went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening to tell Johnson he needed to go and to make a dignified exit.
But he refused to budge, and even sacked Michael Gove, one of his most effective ministers who, according to media reports, had told the British leader he should quit.
“I am not going to step down,” Johnson told a parliamentary committee. The Sun newspaper quoted an ally of the prime minister as saying that rebels in his party would “have to dip their hands in blood” if they wanted to get rid of him.
Johnson has suggested that he had a mandate to govern from the almost 14 million voters who voted for the Conservatives in December 2019 when he swept to power with a promise to sort out Britain’s exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.
He says it would not be responsible to walk away from the job in the middle of an economic crisis and war in Europe. Johnson has been a visible supporter of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in late February.
He has also refused to say if he would try to stay in the job even if he lost a confidence vote from his own lawmakers. That could come next week if they agree to change the party’s rules, which only allow one such challenge a year. He narrowly won a similar vote last month.
Opposition lawmakers said the chaos meant government could not function. Committees due to meet on Thursday to scrutinise legislation, including the National Security Bill, were being cancelled because there was no minister available.
“I do think the time has come for the prime minister to step down,” Suella Braverman, the attorney general for England and Wales, told ITV late on Wednesday, although she said she herself would stay in post. “If there is a leadership contest I will put my name into the ring.”
There have also been suggestions Johnson might try to call a snap national election if rebel lawmakers tried to force him out, although he said such a vote was “the last thing this country needs”.
“The prime minister is deluded if he feels he can cling on in the face of collapsed parliamentary support,” said a senior Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity. “He is embarrassing the Conservative Party and showing contempt for the electorate.”
The crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher who held a government role involved in pastoral care was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.
Johnson had to apologise after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister saying he had forgotten.
The issue followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police.