UK PM Johnson digs in despite calls to quit

UK PM Johnson digs in despite calls to quit
4 min read
Boris Johnson has vowed to fight on as the UK's Prime Minister despite a growing chorus of calls for his resignation.
Boris Johnson's scandal-hit government is fighting for its political survival [Getty]

Boris Johnson on Wednesday refused to quit as Britain's prime minister, despite calls from senior ministerial colleagues to go after dozens of resignations from his scandal-hit government.

A cabinet delegation had awaited his return to Downing Street from a lengthy grilling by a parliamentary committee to tell him his time was up.

It was said to include hard-line interior minister Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi, who has barely been 24 hours in his new job of finance minister.

But two staunchly pro-government outlets, the Daily Mail and The Sun, as well as other media said Johnson had refused to bow to their calls for him to go.

The Sun's political editor Harry Cole tweeted that a cabinet minister had told him "the PM is going to fight" and a reshuffle was on the cards, even though more senior figures were set to resign.

"Boris Johnson has told cabinet ministers he will not quit, arguing it would cause 'chaos' and see the Conservatives fall to 'almost certain' defeat at the next election," his counterpart at the Mail, Jason Groves, wrote.

Johnson's grip on power has been slipping since Tuesday night, when Rishi Sunak resigned as finance minister and Sajid Javid quit as health secretary.

Both said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal that has dogged Johnson for months, including lockdown lawbreaking in Downing Street.

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By Wednesday evening, 39 ministers and their Tory MP aides had quit over the prior 24 hours, mostly from more junior positions outside the cabinet.

At the parliamentary committee and an earlier question and answer session with lawmakers in parliament, Johnson defiantly vowed to get on with the job.

"What we need is stable government, loving each other as Conservatives, getting on with our priorities, that is what we need to do," he said.

Earlier, Javid urged other ministers to resign.

"The problem starts at the top, and I believe that is not going to change," he said.

"And that means that it is for those of us in that position - who have responsibility - to make that change."

Cries of "bye, Boris" echoed around the chamber at the end of his speech.

Most Tories were conspicuously silent when Johnson attacked the Labour opposition at prime minister's questions. Some shook their heads.

Sunak and Javid quit as Johnson apologised for appointing senior Conservative MP Chris Pincher deputy chief whip, only for him to quit last week following accusations he drunkenly groped two men.

Former education secretary Zahawi was immediately handed the finance brief and acknowledged the uphill task ahead.

"You don't go into this job to have an easy life," Zahawi told Sky News.

Days of shifting explanations had followed Pincher's resignation.

Downing Street at first denied Johnson knew of prior allegations against him when promoting Pincher in February.

But by Tuesday, that defence had collapsed after a former top civil servant said Johnson, as foreign minister, was told in 2019 about another incident involving his ally.

Minister for children and families Will Quince quit early Wednesday, saying he was given inaccurate information before having to defend the government in a round of media interviews Monday.

Tory critics said the Pincher affair had tipped many over the edge, accusing the prime minister of turning a blind eye to sexual assault.

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Johnson only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative MPs a month ago, which ordinarily would mean he could not be challenged again for another year.

But the influential "1922 Committee" of non-ministerial Tory MPs is reportedly seeking to change the rules, with its executive committee Wednesday announcing it will elect a fresh lineup of members next week.

Johnson's refusal to resign means he would likely face a second confidence vote. The Sun's Cole said he had been told the prime minister sees it as "parliament V the people".

A snap Savanta ComRes poll Wednesday indicated that three in five Conservative voters say Johnson cannot regain the public's trust, while 72 percent of all voters think he should resign.

The prime minister, who received a police fine for the so-called "Partygate" affair, faces a parliamentary probe into whether he lied to MPs about the revelations.

Pincher's departure from the whips' office - charged with enforcing party discipline and standards - marked yet another allegation of sexual misconduct by Tories in recent months, recalling the "sleaze" that dogged John Major's government in the 1990s.

Two Conservative MPs were forced to resign in recent weeks, forcing by-elections that were won by opposition parties, concentrating the minds of party critics who fear a wider reckoning with the electorate if Johnson stays.