Boris Johnson defiant as government colleagues tell him to quit

It would be wrong to step down while Britain faces great challenges, prime minister says

Boris Johnson showed defiance throughout Wednesday as six ministers and more than two dozen more junior figures resigned from his government before senior cabinet ministers told him he should go. Home secretary Priti Patel, chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi and transport secretary Grant Shapps are among the cabinet ministers who spoke to the prime minister on Wednesday evening urging him to resign.

Citing his 2019 general election victory, Mr Johnson told a group of Commons committee chairs that it would be wrong for him to step down while Britain faced great challenges.

“I look at the issues this country faces. I look at the pressures that people are under and the need for the government to focus on their priorities,” he said.

“I look at the biggest war in Europe for 80 years and I can’t for the life of me see how it is responsible just to walk away from that. Particularly not when you have a mandate of the kind that we won two, three years ago.”

The executive committee of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs decided against changing the rules to allow for a second vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership before 12 months has elapsed since last month’s vote. But they said a new executive would be elected next Monday and a majority of those chosen are expected to favour a rule change.

Graham Brady, 1922 Committee chairman, joined cabinet ministers who met Mr Johnson in Downing Street and he is reported to have told the prime minister that there could be another confidence vote soon and that he might lose it.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sajid Javid, who resigned as health secretary on Tuesday evening, told the House of Commons that he had given the prime minister the benefit of the doubt time and again. But after the repeated falsehoods about parties in Downing Street during lockdown, Mr Johnson’s shifting narrative about what he knew about Chris Pincher’s behaviour was the final straw.

“At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that that point is now,” he said.

“I do fear that the reset button can work only so many times. There are only so many times that we can turn that machine on and off before we realise that something is fundamentally wrong.”

Mr Javid, whose resignation was followed by that of Rishi Sunak as chancellor of the exchequer, issued a challenge to other ministers to do the same.

“I wish my cabinet colleagues well. I can see that they have decided to remain in the cabinet. They will have their own reasons, but it is a choice. I know just how difficult that choice is but let us be clear: not doing something is an active decision,” he said.

The junior ministers who resigned on Wednesday included many who have been among Mr Johnson’s most loyal supporters. Kemi Badenoch and Neil O’Brien resigned as levelling up, housing and communities ministers, Alex Burghart and Lee Rowley as business ministers, and Julia Lopez as a culture minister in a joint letter to the prime minister.

Two parliamentary private secretaries at the Northern Ireland office, Mark Logan and Jonathan Gullis, are among those who resigned from the government. Huw Merriman, the Conservative chairman of the transport select committee, said the prime minister’s position was untenable.

“We cannot continue like this. The current situation is causing inertia in government and if we allow standards expected of those in public service to fall, we will lose the trust of the public and we will never attract high calibre, trustworthy and hard-working individuals into politics or public service,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times