Major blow to Boris Johnson: Rishi Sunak quits cabinet, questions PMs credibility

Major blow to Boris Johnson: Rishi Sunak quits cabinet, questions PM's 'credibility'

In a major blow to the Boris Johnson government, Indian-origin minister Rishi Sunak, the Treasury chief and Health Secretary Sajid Javid quit the cabinet, saying they had lost confidence in Johnson’s leadership amid shifting explanations about his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal.

Reports said Sunak and Javid resigned within minutes of each other, costing Johnson the support of the men responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain the cost-of-living crisis and surging COVID-19 infections.

Both the senior cabinet ministers cited Johnson’s credibility after a day in which the prime minister was forced to backtrack on earlier statements about the scandal that has rattled his government for the past six days.

The crisis has hit Johnson who last month narrowly survived a vote of no confidence triggered by similarly shifting stories about lockdown-breaking parties in government offices.

In his letter of resignation, Javid said the confidence vote showed a large number of Conservative Party lawmakers had lost trust in Johnson.

“It was a moment for humility, grip and a new direction, Javid said. I regret to say, however, that it is clear this situation will not change under your leadership and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”

Sunak posted similar sentiments on Twitter.

“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak said. “I realise that this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Both Sunak and Javid are seen as possible contenders to replace Johnson if he is forced out.

While the resignations heaped pressure on the prime minister, Johnson has in the past proven to be an adept politician, fighting off criticism to prolong his career. Johnson quickly named two loyalists to the positions: Steve Barclay got Javid’s job, while Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi replaced Sunak as Treasury chief, Downing Street said in a statement.

At the same time, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss swiftly threw her support behind Johnson. Other cabinet members, including Culture Secretary Nadine Dories, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel, were also in his corner.

But Scott Lucas, an emeritus professor at the University of Birmingham and a longtime political observer told PTI that it would be difficult for Johnson to ultimately survive the departure of two such senior members of his cabinet.

“He’s not going to go without a fight,” Lucas said. “I just don’t know how many people are left to fight alongside him.”

The latest scandal began Thursday, when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid complaints that he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations levelled against Pincher and questions about why Johnson promoted him to a senior job enforcing party discipline. Pincher denies the allegations.

Johnson’s office initially said he wasn’t aware of the previous accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.

Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020, went public with claims that Johnson’s office wasn’t telling the truth.

McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behaviour in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologised for his actions, McDonald said.

“Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” McDonald wrote.

Hours after McDonald’s comments were published, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister had forgotten that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.

Then minutes before Javid and Sunak announced their resignations, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.

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

The shifting explanation from Johnson fuelled discontent within the cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime ministers denials, only to have the explanation shift the next day.

(With inputs from agencies)

Read More
Next Story