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UK PM Boris Johnson announces resignation

July 7, 2022

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to step down after several high-profile Cabinet members resigned. However, he said he would stay on until a new leader is found, which could take months.

Boris Johnson walking into 10 Downing Street
Johnson said he would go as prime minister, but not right nowImage: Frank Augstein/AP/picture alliance
  • Boris Johnson says he will stand down as Conservative Party leader and prime minister
  • Johnson hopes to stay on as caretaker until a new Conservative leader is elected
  • Opposition leaders have said he should leave as UK head of government immediately
  • The decision came after dozens of government officials resigned and the PM was abandoned by newly appointed ministers

The article was last updated at 19:06 UTC/GMT

This live updates article has been closed. 

British PM Boris Johnson resigns: Key events from Thursday

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned from his position on Thursday after numerous scandals rocked his administration and pressure mounted from Conservative Party colleagues.

While announcing his resignation, Johnson said he will step down once his replacement is chosen. The Conservative Party is set to hold a leadership race in the coming months, and the victor will replace Johnson in October. Earlier, opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said he would ask for a vote of no-confidence if Johnson does not immediately step down.

Johnson's announcement followed the resignation of 50 Conservative lawmakers this week. On Tuesday, Cabinet members Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid stepped down within minutes of each other.

The most recent scandal to hit Johnson's government is the PM's handling of the case against Chris Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker accused of sexual harassment. Pincher resigned in late June, after being accused of having groped two male colleagues at a nightclub. More sexual misconduct allegations were later leveled at the MP.

Other scandals included "partygate," where parties held in government buildings violated COVID-19 lockdown rules, and Johnson's failure to report a donation that lead to the refurbishment of his private residence.

Below you can catch up with Thursday's events as they happened.

New UK PM to be chosen by early September — report

Britain’s Conservative party is looking to select a new prime minister by early September according to British daily newspaper the Financial Times.

The publication cited MPs with knowledge of the plan.

Reactions to Boris Johnson's resignation 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined many who oppose Johnson staying on for a caretaker term, noting, "I'm not sure that anybody can look at Boris Johnson and conclude that he is capable of genuinely behaving as a caretaker prime minister. He will want to do things, and in the process of that undoubtedly cause more chaos than he has already."

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said, "He's inflicted lies, fraud and chaos in the country."

US President Joe Biden said "close cooperation" with the UK would continue, a few hours after Johnson's resignation. 

"The United Kingdom and the United States are the closest of friends and allies, and the special relationship between our people remains strong and enduring," Biden said in a statement.  "I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the government of the United Kingdom," Biden added.

German Greens MP Anton Hofreiter told DW, "It's good news if Britain gets a prime minister again who's a dependable partner. If you look at the circus that Boris Johnson has been running on the Northern Ireland Protocol."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "As for Mr. Johnson, he dislikes us very much. We dislike him, too."

The Russian ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin told Reuters, "Of course, we would prefer someone who is not so antagonistic or belligerent."

Kelin added, "I can't say that he was a friend of Russia." 

By contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, "We all heard this news with sadness. Not only me, but also the entire Ukrainian society," adding, "My entire office and all Ukrainians are grateful to you for your help."

Johnson faces calls to find new venue for wedding party

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, might need to change the venue of their wedding party at Chequers, the prime minister's country retreat, where a glamorous reception for the couple is scheduled for July 30.

The couple had a wedding shrouded in secrecy in May 2021 during the pandemic. They had a small garden party in Downing Street after the ceremony attended by just 30 people.

When Johnson announced his resignation, he said he planned to stay on until October in the role of caretaker until a successor is chosen. 

But several British media outlets, including The Daily Mirror and The Guardian said the timing had more to do with not wanting to lose the perk of Chequers as a venue for his wedding party since invitations had already been sent out.

Critics of Johnson allege he had the 16th-century country estate in mind when he misspoke in his resignation speech and thanked "the wonderful staff here at Chequers." 

Former PM rules herself out of caretaker role

The former British Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out any possibility that she will take over as a caretaker prime minister.

May, who was toppled by Johnson and his allies in 2019, also said any new leader should look to bring the country together. She said there was a need to unify the nation after the divisions that were sown during Johnson's tenure.

"I am concerned when I look at some other countries and the polarization of politics in the United States, for example," May said.

"I think that we need to ensure that we avoid going down that very polarized route of politics and society."

Possible caretaker prime ministers?

UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and former senior minister Michael Gove will not run to become the next Conservative leader, according to the right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper.

The two — both senior figures in the Johnson Cabinet — have both been touted as the possible caretaker prime minister if Johnson is forced out before the leader is elected.

Anyone taking the temporary prime ministerial role would most likely have to rule themselves out of the party leadership race.

Gove, who served as secretary of state for "leveling up", housing and communities, was sacked by Johnson late on Wednesday.

As Johnson's deputy, having led the UK government when the prime minister was incapacitated by COVID-19, Raab is seen as most likely to succeed should there be a caretaker.

UK PM makes statement after agreeing to resign

British former PM Major says Johnson must go now

Former British Prime Minister John Major has said that outgoing Conservative leader Boris Johnson should not remain as prime minister until a new Tory party leader is found.

In a letter to the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, which manages leadership contests and the process for no-confidence votes, Major urged fellow Tories to remove Johnson. 

Major, which was Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997, said Johnson should go "for the overall wellbeing of the country."

The former premier said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab could take over until a new leader is found. Alternatively, he suggested, the party could change the selection rules to accelerate the process.

"The proposal for the prime minister to remain in office — for up to three months — having lost the support of his cabinet, his government, and his parliamentary party is unwise, and may be unsustainable," Major said in a public letter.

  "In such a circumstance the prime minister maintains the power of patronage and, of even greater concern, the power to make decisions which will affect the lives of those within all four nations of the United Kingdom and further afield," he said.

"Some will argue that his new cabinet will restrain him. I merely note that his previous cabinet did not — or could not — do so."

Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister after a damaging leadership challenge that left her with little option but to resign.

Irish PM sees opportunity for a reset with UK

The Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin says there is now a chance for Ireland and Britain to repair relations that have become strained because of Brexit.

Martin has consistently rejected Johnson's attempts to make changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the UK Brexit withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

Martin has warned that such a course would represent a "unilateral decision to breach international law" and threatened the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland.

In his response to Johnson's resignation, the Taoiseach offered his best wishes to Johnson and his family.

However, he also said there was now an opportunity to repair areas in which relations had become frayed.

"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."

"We have now 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."

EU sues UK over NIreland Protocol Law

Top Kyiv adviser thanks Johnson for support

Ukraine presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak has thanked Boris Johnson for his support of the country after Russia's invasion.

In a tweet, Podolyak thanked Johnson for being "the first to arrive in Kyiv, despite missile attacks."

He thanked Johnson for "realizing the threat of the RF [Russian Federation] monster and always being at the forefront of supporting Ukraine."

The UK prime minister has been a strong supporter of Ukraine, as it battles Russia. Johnson visited Kyiv twice since the conflict began. During his resignation speech, Johnson listed his support for Ukraine as one of his proudest achievements.

Johnson says he will resign as leader

Boris Johnson has announced his resignation as Conservative leader and said the reason he fought so hard to remain in the post was a sense of duty.

However, Johnson said it was now "clearly the will" of the Conservative Party that there should be a new party head. He said the "herd instinct is powerful" in reference to the pressure placed upon him to stand down by fellow Conservatives.

"I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world," Johnson said. "But them's the breaks."

Johnson said he had appointed a new Cabinet and that he will remain as prime minister until a new party chief is chosen. He promised to support the new leader of the party and said the government of the country would be carried on during the handover process.

"The reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation, to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019.

"In the last few days, I've tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we are delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate...

"And I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and, of course, it's painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself."

Podium for PM's statement appears

The podium from which the prime minister is expected to make his speech has been brought out in front of Number 10 Downing Street.

Johnson fills some Cabinet posts

Downing Street says British Conservative lawmaker Greg Clarke has been appointed as the country's new leveling-up secretary, replacing former incumbent of the role, Michael Gove.

Johnson on Wednesday sacked Gove from the role, which involves responsibility for local government and the regions. Gove had led the line of ministers urging him to resign.

With several of Gove's Cabinet colleagues having resigned, replacements for other positions were also needed for Johnson to carry on as caretaker prime minister.

The prime minister's office said James Cleverly, previously junior minister for Europe and North America, takes over the portfolio of education minister.

Meanwhile, former justice minister Robert Buckland was announced as the new Secretary of State for Wales.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse becomes the new Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster, according to Downing Street. The role, previously also held by Gove, has no departmental responsibilities but is the second-highest-ranking position in the Cabinet after that of the prime minister.

Opposition leader threatens no-confidence vote

The leader of the UK opposition Labour Party has said that, if the Conservative Party does not get rid of Johnson as prime minister now, it will call a vote of no-confidence.

"He needs to go completely, none of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months. He's inflicted lies, fraud and chaos in the country," said Labour leader Keir Starmer.

"He needs to go. He can't cling on in this way. His own party has finally concluded that he is unfit to be prime minister. They can't now inflict him on the country for the next few months."

"If they don't get rid of him then Labour will step up in the national interest and bring a vote of no-confidence."

New caretaker cabinet chosen — report

Downing Street has appointed a new Cabinet to take over the business of government until a new Conservative Party leader is chosen, according to the BBC.

It's expected that a Tory leadership race will take place in the coming months, with the victor to replace Johnson in October.

Several senior members of Johnson's Conservative Party say he should be replaced immediately rather than be allowed to remain as a caretaker prime minister until a new party leader is chosen.

Tory members want defense minister as PM — survey

According to a survey by opinion pollsters YouGov, Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace would be Conservative Party members' favorite to replace Boris Johnson.

It will be up to party members to decide between the final candidates after they are whittled down to the last two in voting by Conservative lawmakers.

Wallace has called on Johnson to quit but said he would stay in his role leading the UK defense ministry to protect national security.

A former soldier, he was security minister from 2016 until taking on his current role three years later. Wallace has won plaudits after his department evacuated British nationals and allies from Afghanistan last year, and for his advocacy of sending weapons to Ukraine.

Other possible contenders in the poll included Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, departed finance minister Rishi Sunak, and Jeremy Hunt, who faced Johnson in the last showdown decided by party members.

PM speaks to queen in advance

Boris Johnson has reportedly spoken to Queen Elizabeth as a courtesy ahead of an impending announcement about his plans to stand down, according to a report from the British broadcaster ITV.

EU Brexit chair Verhofstadt welcomes end of era

The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt has welcomed the end of Johnson's tenure. The former Belgian prime minister compared the British prime minister to former US President Donald Trump, and said he hoped UK-EU relations could improve.

"Boris Johnson's reign ends in disgrace, just like his friend Donald Trump," Verhofstadt tweeted. "The end of an era of transatlantic populism? Let's hope so. EU - UK relations suffered hugely with Johnson's choice of Brexit. Things can only get better!"

Johnson emerged as a figurehead of Brexit, and disputes with the EU have bubbled in the background throughout his tenure.

Scotland leader Sturgeon says PM cannot stay on

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the idea of Johnson remaining as prime minister until later this year, when a new Tory leader is elected, is not feasible.

"There will be a widespread sense of relief that the chaos of the last few days, indeed months, will come to an end, though [the] notion of Boris Johnson staying on as PM until autumn seems far from ideal, and surely not sustainable?"

"Boris Johnson was always manifestly unfit to be PM and the Tories should never have elected him leader or sustained him in office for as long as they have."

It's expected that a leader might not be finally decided upon until October.

A day earlier, Johnson told Sturgeon in a letter that now was not the time to revisit the question of a
vote on Scottish independence. Sturgeon last week announced plans for a second independence referendum to be held on October 2023.

UK stocks and sterling enjoy bounce

Reports of Johnson's planned resignation gave the UK stock market a boost, with the key FTSE 100 index gaining 1.2% after the news.

The FTSE 250, which is more exposed to Britain's domestic economy, rose by 0.9%.

The pound sterling, which had been in the doldrums, jumped 0.5% following the media reports. The currency hit two-year lows against the dollar on Wednesday after the resignation of the finance and health secretaries threw Johnson's tenure into doubt.

Opposition leader Starmer urges change of government

Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, said that news of Johnson's impending resignation was "good news for the country."

But Starmer warned that the prime minister's resignation was not enough.

"We don't need to change the Tory at the top — we need a proper change of government," Starmer said. "We need a fresh start for Britain."

British media: Johnson agrees to step down

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to resign as leader of the Conservative Party, British broadcasters BBC and Sky reported on Thursday. 

The reports follow a slew of scandals that surrounded him and his government, and reports that Michael Gove, one of the most senior ministers in the British government, told Johnson he must go.

Johnson had initially refused to resign, despite a succession of resignations, as he faced a grilling from UK lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday. His grip on power was weakened considerably, however, when Rishi Sunak quit as finance minister and Sajid Javid resigned as health secretary within minutes of one another on Tuesday evening.

More ministers resigned their posts on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total to more than 50 in less than 48 hours.

The resignations follow shifting explanations from Johnson's Downing Street office about a sex scandal that involved a mid-ranking ally of the prime minister.

Johnson has faced sharp criticism over his promotion of junior minister Chris Pincher to the role of chief whip — a key position that involves enforcing party discipline. The promotion came despite Pincher being accused of drunkenly groping two men, and Johnson having been made aware of the allegations.

New Cabinet ministers abandon PM

Cabinet member Nadhim Zahawi on Thursday said Johnson must quit despite being appointed by the prime minister as the UK's finance minister only 36 hours earlier.

He replaced Rishi Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday evening.

"This is not sustainable and it will only get worse — for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country. You must do the right thing and go now."

Moments after Zahawi's intervention, the education minister Johnson appointed at the same time, Michelle Donelan, announced her resignation.

"With great sadness, I must resign from government," she said.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary became the first Cabinet minister of the day to quit, saying the situation was "past the point of no return." That resignation was followed by the departure of a succession of junior ministers.

What's behind the ministerial resignations?

Ministers of Johnson's Cabinet resigned shortly after he appeared on television to apologize for appointing Pincher to the role despite knowing the allegations.

Johnson is alleged to have joked about the claims, referring to the lawmaker as "Pincher by name, pincher by nature" in 2020.

The prime minister's office had initially said that it was not aware of any complaints against Pincher, but later changed this to "serious specific complaints."

This account was refuted by the top civil servant in the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020, who said the complaints about Pincher had been upheld. In a highly unusual move for a civil servant, Simon McDonald publicly claimed that Johnson's office had repeatedly failed to tell the truth.

The revelations are only the latest in a string of scandals involving Johnson, who was been fined by police for lockdown-breaching parties. Last month, he survived a no-confidence vote that saw 41% of Conservative lawmakers vote to topple him.

ar, rc/dj, fb (AFP, AP)