The prime minister is on the brink, with his premiership entering its most dangerous moment, after the resignations of both his health secretary and chancellor, amid a new bid to oust him from office.
Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other just as Johnson was forced to give a humiliating apology over his handling of the row over former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
In both their letters, Sunak and Javid gave a scathing assessment of Johnson’s premiership. Javid wrote: “I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their Government. The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.
“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. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree.
“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.”
Sunak wrote that the “public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”, adding that “our approaches are fundamentally too different”.
He said: “I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it’s not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one…
“I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this.”
Their resignations came after Johnson admitted that he should not have appointed Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip in February after it was reported that the MP groped two men last week.
Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Pincher but made him deputy chief whip anyway. Downing Street initially insisted that the prime minister was unware of any specific allegations against Pincher. However, an explosive letter from former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord McDonald accused Downing Street of making “inaccurate claims”, saying they “keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth”.
After repeated denials, a Number 10 spokesman then said Johnson was briefed about complaints against Pincher in 2019 but that he had forgotten that he was briefed about the incident.
The handling of the Pincher scandal and Johnson’s failure once more to tell the truth led not only to Sunak and Javid resigning but also several junior ministers quitting their posts.
Bim Afolami resigned as vice chair of the Conservative party while ministerial aides Jonathan Gullis, Saqib Bhatti, Nicola Richards and Virginia Crosbie also resigned.
Johnson moved swiftly to replace Javid and Sunak, with Steve Barclay being appointed health secretary and Nadhim Zahawi becoming the next chancellor.
Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward
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