Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid both announced they were quitting in letters posted to Twitter within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening.
“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak said in his resignation letter. “I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
“In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different,” Sunak added in the letter. “I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this.”
Javid wrote that “it has been an enormous privilege to serve in this role, but I regret that I can no longer continue in good conscience.” Javid added that the vote of confidence in the prime minister last month “was a moment for humility, grip and new direction.”
“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,” Javid wrote.
Scandal after scandal
The most immediate controversy facing Johnson is Downing Street’s handling of last week’s resignation of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, who stepped down from his post last Thursday amid allegations he had groped two guests at a private dinner the night before.
While he did not admit the allegations directly, Pincher said in a letter to Johnson that “last night I drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people.”
Downing Street has struggled to explain why Pincher was in government in the first place, amid a wave of revelations about his previous alleged conduct, denying Johnson knew anything specific about the allegations.
On Tuesday, it emerged that a complaint had been made against Pincher in the Foreign Office about three years ago and that Johnson was briefed on what happened.
Minutes before Sunak and Javid announced their resignations, Johnson acknowledged it “was a mistake” to appoint Pincher to his government.
“I got this complaint. It was something that was only raised with me very cursory, but I wish that we had acted on it and that he had not continued in government because he then went on, I’m afraid, to behave, as far as we can see — according to the allegations that we have — very, very badly,” Johnson said in a broadcast interview.
UK opposition leader Keir Starmer said it was “clear” that the government was “collapsing.”
“Tory cabinet ministers have known all along who this Prime Minister is. 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,” the Labour Party leader said in a statement released after the two resignations.
For months Johnson has been facing a barrage of criticism over his conduct and that of his government, including illegal, lockdown-breaking parties thrown in his Downing Street offices for which he and others were fined.
Johnson has faced numerous other scandals that have hit his standing in the polls — despite his 80-seat landslide victory just two-and-a-half years ago. These include accusations of using donor money inappropriately to pay for a refurbishment of his Downing Street home and whipping MPs to protect a colleague who had breached lobbying rules.
According to an Ipsos UK survey conducted between 22-29th June, Johnson’s Conservative Party is at its lowest level recorded in more than a decade when it comes to being seen as “fit to govern”. Just 21% of respondents said it is fit to govern — the lowest number for either the Conservatives or Labour since Ipsos started tracking this metric in 2011.
The chaos in Westminster had ripple effects in the financial markets, pushing the value of the British pound against the dollar to its lowest in more than two years.
Downing Street did not hesitate filling the vacant roles. Nadhim Zahawi, who was previously the Secretary of State for Education, was appointed as the Chancellor, while Downing Street Chief of Staff Steve Barclay became the new Health Secretary on Tuesday evening.
Michelle Donelan replaced Zahawi as the Education Secretary.
Javid and Sunak were not the only ones to go on Tuesday. Shortly after the two quit their jobs, Conservative party vice chair Bim Afolami announced live on television that he too was resigning. During an interview with The News Desk’s Tom Newton Dunn, Afolami said: “I just don’t think the Prime Minister any longer has my support… the support of the party or indeed the country anymore.”
Afolami called for Johnson to step down and then said he would also give his own resignation. “I think you have to resign because I can’t serve under the Prime Minister.”
Alex Chalk, who served as the UK Solicitor General, a ministerial role in the Attorney General’s Office, also resigned on Tuesday, saying in his resignation letter that it was time “for fresh leadership.”
“To be in government is to accept the duty to argue for difficult or even unpopular policy positions where that serves the broader national interest. But it cannot extend to defending the indefensible,” Chalk said.
The Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Morocco, Andrew Murrison, also resigned, blasting the “rolling chaos of the last six months” and saying that Boris Johnson’s “position has become unrecoverable.”
At least half a dozen other junior-ranking government officials also announced resignations later on Tuesday.
CNN’s Luke McGee, Sarah Dean, Luke Henderson, Lauren Kent, Dan Wright, Jorge Engels and Maija Ehlinger contributed reporting.