‘Them’s the breaks’: Boris Johnson resigns but plans to remain until successor chosen

‘The herd instinct is powerful and when it moves it moves,’ Conservative party leader says as he steps down

Boris Johnson has resigned as Conservative leader, saying “no one is remotely indispensable” after a series of cabinet ministers told him he had lost the support of the party.

In a statement outside Downing Street, Mr Johnson announced he was stepping down as party leader but said he planned to stay on as prime minister while the party picks his successor.

The statement brings an end to an extraordinary standoff between Mr Johnson and cabinet ministers, including his new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, who were urging him to quit amid anger over the Chris Pincher affair and other scandals.

Mr Johnson had clung to power in the past 48 hours despite more than 50 resignations from his government, including Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and education secretary Michelle Donelan, after just over a day in the job. Since Mr Lewis’s resignation on Thursday morning, Shailesh Vara has been appointed secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Downing Street said.

Mr Johnson, joined by his wife, Carrie, and a number of Tory supporters, said he was “sad to be giving up the best job in the world” and he blamed the Conservative parliamentary party for pushing him out of office.

“When the herd moves, it moves,” he said in a reference to the cabinet and MPs moving against him, while paying tribute to the “brilliant Darwinian system” that caused his downfall. “Them’s the breaks,” he added.

The prime minister said he had “appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place”, pointing to a sense of duty and obligation to the public.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that following the resignation of Mr Johnson there was “an opportunity to return to the true spirit of partnership and mutual respect that is needed to underpin the gains of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Relations between the two governments are at a low point after months of stalemate over the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Our two governments working in close partnership is a key underpinning for peace and prosperity on these islands. While prime minister Johnson and I engaged actively together, we didn’t always agree, and the relationship between our governments has been strained and challenged in recent times,” the Taoiseach said in a statement.

Mr Martin said the relationships between the two countries are “long, deep and enduring”.

It is expected a new leader would be in place by the time of the Conservative Party conference in October.

However, senior Conservative MPs are pushing back against the idea that Mr Johnson should be allowed to stay in office for any longer and they want to see an interim leader in place such as Dominic Raab.

Support drained away from Mr Johnson as more than 50 ministers and government aides resigned in a rolling walkout, while a slew of once-supportive backbenchers declared no confidence in his leadership.

The revolt began on Tuesday evening with the resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak as health secretary and chancellor respectively.

Mr Johnson faced the prospect of a second vote of no confidence as soon as next week, with elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee due to be held on Monday and likely to result in a change to the rules.

His exit follows three years of scandals, including fury over his handling of harassment allegations against Mr Pincher, the deputy chief whip; a police fine over lockdown parties in Downing Street; attempts to change the standards system; and accusations of breaking international law.

Mr Johnson became prime minister in 2019, taking over from Theresa May with a promise to “get Brexit done”. After winning an 80-seat majority in a general election in December 2019, and taking the UK out of the EU, the prime minister had his eye on multiple terms in No 10.

However, his leadership toppled under a wave of sleaze allegations and failure to tell the truth, contributing to the resignation of two of his ethics advisers, Sir Alex Allan and Lord Geidt.

British Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “It is good news for the country that Boris Johnson has resigned as prime minister. But it should have happened long ago. He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale. And all those who have been complicit should be utterly ashamed.

“The Tory party have inflicted chaos upon the country during the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. And they cannot now pretend they are the ones to sort it out.

“They have been in power for 12 years. The damage they have done is profound.”

Dominic Cummings, formerly Mr Johnson’s right-hand man in No 10 but now one of his most fierce critics, said the prime minister would cause “carnage” if he was allowed to remain in position and suggested Dominic Raab should stand in as a caretaker premier.

He suggested the Cabinet should give Mr Johnson an ultimatum and tell him that if he does not go Queen Elizabeth will appoint deputy prime minister Mr Raab and “cops escort you from building”.

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi told Mr Johnson to resign on Thursday morning, less than 48 hours after the prime minister promoted him, saying the crisis engulfing the government would only get worse.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse, for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” Mr Zahawi said on Twitter after more than 50 ministers and aides resigned from the government.

“You must do the right thing and go now.”

Nicola Sturgeon has said there will be a “widespread sense of relief” as the prime minister prepares to stand down.

Earlier on Thursday, James Cartlidge as courts’ minister, became the 53rd member of the government to resign. He told Mr Johnson: “The position is clearly untenable.”

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis resigned from Mr Johnson’s government on Thursday morning in another wave of resignations with security minister Damian Hinds, treasury minister Helen Whately and science minister George Freeman also stepping down.

Mr Lewis said “a decent and responsible government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect” and “I no longer believe those values are being upheld”.

Mr Lewis continued: “A decision to leave government is never taken lightly, particularly at such a critical time for Northern Ireland. I have taken a lot of time to consider this decision, having outlined my position to you at length last night.”

Mr Johnson on Wednesday night sacked Michael Gove as levelling up secretary, hours after he told the prime minister privately that he should resign. Other cabinet ministers, including home secretary Priti Patel and transport secretary Grant Shapps, urged the prime minister to go on Wednesday evening but he told them he was determined to remain in office.

More than 100 MPs said publicly that he should leave office in recent days. The latest move against the prime minister was triggered by his handling of a scandal surrounding former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher who resigned last week following claims that he groped two men.— Guardian and PA