U.K.'s Boris Johnson Vows to Keep Up the Fight Amid Growing Calls to Resign

Badly wounded by the resignations of a stream of senior colleagues and junior ministers who said he was not fit to govern, Boris Johnson's fate could be decided as soon as Wednesday evening

Reuters
Reuters
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks at Downing Street in London, Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks at Downing Street in London, Wednesday.Credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/רויטרס
Reuters
Reuters

Britain's Boris Johnson on Wednesday vowed to fight on against a chorus of calls for him to resign as prime minister, but his defiant pledge to keep going was met with derision and disregard from a growing number of his own lawmakers.

Badly wounded by the resignations of a stream of senior colleagues and junior ministers who said he was not fit to govern, Johnson sought to come out fighting at parliament's weekly prime minister's questions session.

With the tide of resignations rising to more than 20, some questioned whether Johnson could fill vacancies at a time when there are calls for the government to tackle a cost-of-living crisis and support an economy heading for a sharp slowdown, possibly a recession.

His immediate fate could be decided as soon as later on Wednesday at a meeting of the so-called 1922 Committee that sets the rules for leadership confidence votes. A spokesperson said Johnson was confident he would win a confidence motion.

"The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances," is to keep going. Johnson said. "And that's what I'm going to do."

Earlier, he tried to reassert his authority by quickly appointing Nadhim Zahawi, a rising star in the Conservative Party widely credited for the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, as finance minister.

But Johnson's performance in parliament encountered a brutal response.

Underlining the tenuous position he is in, some colleagues in his cabinet team of top ministers struggled to contain their laughter as the opposition Labour leader poked fun at his cabinet for being in the "charge of the lightweight brigade".

Three members of Johnson's own party asked whether he would resign.

"Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we've been given" then I would, Johnson said.

Overall, it was a muted performance for a prime minister who has seen his political fortunes tumble from a landslide election victory in 2019 to now, when the resignation of his finance and health ministers opened the floodgates for more junior ministers to quit.

Standing in the backbenches, his former health minister, Sajid Javid, detailed the scandals, missteps and gaffes that have marked Johnson's tenure so far.

"At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that point is now," Javid told a silent parliament, with Johnson listening stony faced.

Kicking and Screaming

The prime minister is later due to appear before the chairs of select committees for a scheduled two-hour grilling.

"I suspect we will have to drag him kicking and screaming from Downing Street," one Conservative lawmaker told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But if we have to do it that way then we will."

A former journalist and London mayor who became the face of Britain's departure from the European Union, his landslide 2019 election win soon gave way to a combative and often chaotic approach to governing.

His leadership has been mired in scandals over the last few months, with the prime minister fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws and a damning report published about the behavior of officials at his Downing Street office who breached their own lockdown rules.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

The latest bout of drama at the heart of British power comes as some economists warn the country could tip into recession.

The latest scandal saw Johnson apologizing for appointing a lawmaker to a role involved in party welfare and discipline, even after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.

Downing Street's narrative changed several times over what the prime minister knew of the past behavior of the politician, who was forced to resign, and when he knew it. His spokesman blamed a lapse in Johnson's memory.

That prompted Rishi Sunak to quit as chancellor of the exchequer - the finance minister - and Javid to resign as health secretary, while others left junior ministerial or envoy roles.

"It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership - and you have therefore lost my confidence too," Javid said in his resignation letter.

Several of the ministers cited Johnson's lack of judgment, standards, and inability to tell the truth.

A snap YouGov poll found 69% of Britons thought Johnson should step down as prime minister.

A month ago, Johnson survived a confidence vote of Conservative lawmakers, and current party rules mean he cannot face another such challenge for a year.

However, some lawmakers are seeking to change those rules, while he is also under investigation by a parliamentary committee over whether he lied to parliament about COVID-19 lockdown breaches. Were Johnson to go, the process to replace him could take a couple of months.

"As the prime minister constantly tries to deflect from the issue, always tries to blame other people for mistakes and that leaves nothing left for him to do other than to take responsibility and resign," said Gary Sambrook, a Conservative lawmaker first elected in 2019.

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