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Boris Johnson's leadership in peril as two senior UK ministers resign amid rumbling controversy

Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid have stepped down from their ministerial posts while several Tory MPs resigned from other roles.

File image of Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak  and Boris Johnson.
File image of Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson.
Image: PA

Updated Jul 5th 2022, 9:45 PM

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson is facing the biggest political crisis of his premiership after Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor and Sajid Javid resigned as health secretary.

The resignations came after Johnson was forced into a humiliating apology over his handling of the Chris Pincher row after it emerged he had forgotten about being told of previous allegations of “inappropriate” conduct by the former deputy chief whip.

Sunak and Javid announced they were stepping down from their ministerial posts in separate statements, released within minutes of each other, shortly after 6pm this evening. 

Downing Street announced a flurry of replacements less than four hours later.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi will replace Sunak as Chancellor and Downing Street chief of staff Steve Barclay will replace Javid as health secretary. Universities minister Michelle Donelan will replace Zahawi in the education role.

“To leave ministerial office is a serious matter at any time. For me to step down as chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly. However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak said in his letter to Johnson.

The twin resignations of Javid and Sunak mean Johnson’s position is now perilous, but Cabinet ministers including Dominic Raab, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Therese Coffey and Ben Wallace indicated they would be staying in the Government.

Conservative vice-chair Bim Afolami also announced his resignation during a live interview on TalkTV and MP Andrew Murrison said on social media that he has quit as a trade envoy, tweeting a scarcely legible copy of his resignation letter.

Other Tories also resigned from Parliamentary Private Secretary roles, including Jonathan Gullis – PPS to the Northern Ireland secretary – who was previously a vocal Johnson supporter.

Alex Chalk later resigned as Solicitor General, saying the time has come for “fresh leadership” after public confidence in No 10 has “irretrievably broken down”.

Johnson’s authority had already been weakened by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his MPs try to oust him, amid lingering anger over the partygate scandal.

UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said “it’s clear that this Government is now collapsing”. He added that the Cabinet ministers who have resigned have been “complicit” as Johnson “disgraced his office”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “the whole rotten lot” in Johnson’s government should go.

“Feels like [the] end might be nigh for Johnson – not a moment too soon,” she said.

The Prime Minister’s fate may ultimately lie with backbench MPs if the Tory 1922 Committee’s rules are changed to allow another confidence vote within 12 months.

Allies of Johnson believe that is unlikely as it would leave any future leader with a “gun to their head”.

Javid told the Prime Minister that the recent vote of confidence was a “moment for humility, grip and new direction”.

“I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too,” he said. 

In a letter to Johnson, Javid said that the British people “rightly expect integrity from their Government”.

He wrote: “Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.

Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither.

Chris Pincher controversy

Johnson earlier apologised over his handling of the Chris Pincher row.

Pincher quit as deputy chief whip last week following claims that he groped two men at a private members’ club, but Johnson was told about allegations against him as far back as 2019.

The British Prime Minister acknowledged he should have sacked Pincher when he was told about the claims against him when he was a Foreign Office minister in 2019, but instead Johnson went on to appoint him to other government roles.

Asked if that was an error, Johnson said: “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do.

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“I apologise to everybody who has been badly affected by it. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this Government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power.”

Speaking to reporters in his Commons office he did not deny joking: “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.”

He said: “What I can tell you is that, if I look at the background of this and why I regret it so much, is that about three years ago there was a complaint made against Chris Pincher in the Foreign Office, the complaint was cleared up, he apologised.

“It was raised with me, orally, I was briefed on what had happened. If I had my time again I would think back on it and recognise that he wasn’t going to learn a lesson and he wasn’t going to change and I regret that.

“It was something that was only raised with me very cursorily but I wish that we had – I, in particular – had acted on it and that he had not continued in government because he then went on, I’m afraid, to behave – as far as we can see, according to the allegations that we have – very, very badly.”

cabinet-reshuffle Chris Pincher Source: PA

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab today insisted that Pincher was not “guilty” of anything, while conceding that “the behaviour was inappropriate, unprofessional.”

In a heated exchange with Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Raab said “no formal disciplinary action was taken” and the complainant did not want formal action taken on the matter.

“It did not trip the wire of severity to warrant [a] formal disciplinary process,” he added. “‘Guilty’ is a very loaded term.”

In the Commons, responding to an urgent question from Labour’s Angela Rayner, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told MPs: “The Prime Minister was made aware of this issue in late 2019, he was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary action, no issue therefore arose about [Mr Pincher] remaining as a minister.

“Last week, when fresh allegations arose, the Prime Minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident. As soon as he was reminded, the No 10 press office corrected their public lines.”

Rayner, the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, questioned why Pincher’s conduct was not considered a breach of the ministerial code, and why Johnson allowed him to stay in post if he knew about the allegations.

Additional reporting from Orla Dwyer and Céimin Burke

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