Boris Johnson’s closest allies sought to shore up his position as prime minister on Tuesday night following the resignations of chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid. Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the prime minister’s popular mandate from the 2019 general election trumped any ministerial resignations.
“Harold Macmillan lost his whole treasury team and then went off on a tour of the Commonwealth saying he was going to get beyond these little local difficulties. I think it’s much the same now. Chancellors do resign and this doesn’t necessarily have any effect on the government,” he told Sky News.
Other ministers, including deputy prime minister Dominic Raab, foreign secretary Liz Truss, home secretary Priti Patel and Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove appeared on Tuesday night to have decided to remain in government. But former Brexit minister David Frost backed Mr Sunak and Mr Javid and said it was time for Mr Johnson to step aside.
“I believe the interests of the country, our newfound self-government, and the Conservative Party would be best served by a new leadership and a new prime minister,” he said. “I’m afraid the developments of the last week show there is no chance of the prime minister either putting in place the necessary change of approach to running a government or establishing a new policy direction.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson apologised for appointing Chris Pincher deputy chief whip despite being aware of complaints against him for inappropriate behaviour. Mr Pincher resigned last week after he was accused of groping two men at a Conservative party event in a private members’ club.
“I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. I think, in hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do. I apologise to everybody who’s been badly affected by it. I just 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,” he said.
“What I wanted was to give Chris Pincher, if not the benefit of the doubt, then the ability to prove that he could do better. And I’m afraid that he couldn’t. And I feel very, very bitterly disappointed and also sorry for the mistake I made.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said that although it was clear that Mr Johnson should step down, only a change of government would repair the damage he had done and give the country a fresh start. “After all the sleaze, the scandals and the failure, it’s clear that this government is now collapsing. Tory cabinet ministers have known all along who this prime minister is,” he said.
“They have been his cheerleaders throughout this sorry saga. Backing him when he broke the law. Backing him when he lied repeatedly. Backing him when he mocked the sacrifices of the British people. In doing so, they have been complicit every step of the way as he has disgraced his office and let down his country. If they had a shred of integrity they would have gone months ago.”