Britain’s leader’s hopes jostle for position

Johnson has vowed not to make any major policy decisions in the time he has left, but many conservatives say a lame leader is the last thing the country needs amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and the worsening cost of living crisis triggered by soaring food and energy prices.

Some are also wary of Johnson’s intentions after a resignation speech in which he made it clear that he did not want to leave, but had “failed to convince my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change the government when we deliver so much and have such a broad mandate.”

George Freeman, who quit as science minister on Thursday, said he was worried about holding a leadership election in “a feverish moment of midsummer madness where we choose the wrong person in a hurry because of the instability”.

Some had been pushing for Johnson to relent and let Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab step in as temporary leader. But lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the Conservative committee that organizes the party’s leadership races, said “that ship has sailed”.

“We now have to live with the fact that Boris Johnson will be prime minister until a successor can be voted on,” he said.

The main opposition Labor Party said it was unacceptable and promised to call for a no-confidence vote against Johnson in the House of Commons next week, although the prospects for its success are uncertain.

“He’s a proven liar who’s been engulfed in foolishness and we can’t have another two months like this, you know,” Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said. “So they have to get rid of him, and if they don’t we’ll call a vote of no confidence because it’s pretty clear – he doesn’t have the confidence of the House or the British public.”

The brash 58-year-old politician who pulled Britain out of the European Union and spearheaded COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, has repeatedly defied the odds during a political career in Russian mountains.

In recent months he has managed to stay in power despite accusations he was too close to party donors, shielded supporters from allegations of intimidation and corruption and misled parliament about government office parties breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules.

He was fined by police for attending one of the parties – the first prime minister ever sanctioned for breaking the ruling law – but survived a vote of no confidence last month in parliament, although 41% of conservative lawmakers tried to oust him.

He was brought down by one scandal too many – this one involving his naming of a politician accused of sexual misconduct.

Johnson has faced days of questions and given days of conflicting answers about what he knows about past allegations against Chris Pincher, a Tory lawmaker who resigned as the party’s deputy chief whip last week after allegedly groped two men at a private club. Pincher admitted that he got drunk and “embarrassed himself”.

Johnson offered shifting explanations of what he knew and when he knew it. This has just raised fears that the Prime Minister cannot be trusted with the boiling point.

Javid and Sunak, senior cabinet members who were responsible for tackling COVID-19 and inflation respectively, resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday, triggering a wave of departures from their colleagues.

Johnson clung to power for days, defiantly telling lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to continue governing.

His resignation the following day was a humiliating defeat for a politician whose bluster brought unrivaled celebrity status in British politics – but who has been accused of behaving as if the rules don’t apply to him. The party acted once it decided that a leader with a rare ability to connect with voters had become a liability.

Tory supporter Ernest William Lee said he “heaved a big sigh of relief” when Johnson announced he would be leaving.

“I’m sorry this country is in this state,” Lee said. “It’s a mess and it needs someone very strong – man or woman, I don’t care – to make it work, make it work properly and get it back on its feet.

“I hate to be the laughing stock of Europe.”


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