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LONDON — Boris Johnson isn’t going anywhere — at least not yet.
Despite losing his Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other after the two resigned on Tuesday night, Johnson will not budge, according to his allies. A total of 10 people from the Johnson administration resigned, including two unpaid trade envoys.
The turbulence marks an escalation of a crisis that has engulfed Johnson’s government for months. A series of revelations, first about anti-coronavirus parties attended by figures at the top of British politics, including Johnson himself, and later about the government’s mishandling of successive allegations of abusive behavior by the part of Tory MPs, have shaken the Prime Minister’s grip on Power.
Compounded by a poor performance in two recent by-elections, many senior Tories report a consensus that Johnson’s time in office is coming to an end.
But the vagaries of Britain’s political system, particularly at the hands of a prime minister who critics say should be kicked and shouted out of power, make Johnson likely to hang on for another moment.
There is no immediate mechanism to remove it. Convention dictates that a prime minister should do the right thing as a gentleman and step down voluntarily once he has lost the confidence of his party.
Johnson narrowly survived a vote of confidence in his leadership in June and under current Conservative Party rules is immune from another challenge until 12 months have passed. But anti-Johnson rebels are pushing for election to the executive of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers – which oversees the rules – to scrap that rule and trigger an early vote of confidence.
The Prime Minister also faces an investigation by the Privileges Committee – a group of MPs who have been tasked with looking into whether he misled the House of Commons with his statements about the lockdown-breaking parties at 10 Downing Street. The results of this investigation are expected in the fall and could trigger his resignation.
Another, more unlikely way for Johnson to be ousted is to lose a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, a scenario that would require enough Tory MPs to side with opposition parties to force him to a simple majority.
Finally, his position could become politically untenable if he faces a mass cabinet resignation, with more members of his leadership team leaving en masse.
All signs on Tuesday were that the Prime Minister was staying put, with a provocative reshuffling of his top team aimed at cementing his position. Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed Chancellor – Britain’s finance minister and second in government figure – and Steve Barclay has become Health Secretary, where he will oversee the NHS.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the steady drumbeat of backbench MPs expressing their displeasure with his leadership has only intensified, with a number saying they are fully behind him a month ago now telling reporters that they had submitted letters of censure to his leadership.
The Prime Minister also appeared to be losing support among Conservative Party members and voters. A snapshot poll by YouGov found 69% of voters thought he should quit, up 11 points from last month, and 54% of people who voted Conservative in 2019 shared that view.
Camp officials Sunak and Javid insisted their resignations, which came less than 10 minutes apart, were uncoordinated. A Sunak team manager said the first time he learned of Javid’s resignation was when he saw his resignation letter posted online.
Javid resigned with an outburst of Johnson’s integrity, saying he could no longer serve in his government in “good conscience”. Sunak wrote that he believed government should be “conducted properly, competently and earnestly” and that those standards were “worth fighting for”. He pointed out that their approaches to economics were “fundamentally too different”.
Sunak and Javid are close political allies and are seen as potential leadership candidates. Javid was chancellor before Sunak but resigned in an internal power struggle over the No 10 race. Both are positioning themselves as fiscal conservatives, not as comfortable with increasing public service spending as Johnson.
Conservative Party Vice-Chairman Bim Afolami later resigned live.
Afolami told the talkTV news channel that he no longer supported the Prime Minister and that he believed the Conservative Party and the country felt the same way. When the show host reminded Afolami that he was a government minister, he replied that he was “probably not after saying that” and confirmed that he planned to quit.
Even later on Tuesday evening, Alex Chalk, the Solicitor General, resigned with a letter saying that under Johnson, “public confidence in Number 10’s ability to meet the standards of candor expected of a British Government has been irretrievably shattered. collapsed”.
The Prime Minister could count on the public support of a handful of his staunchest allies. Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, tweeted that she was “100%” behind him and that he “consistently makes all the right important decisions”.
On Wednesday, Johnson faces so-called Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament and a grilling from the powerful Liaison Committee, made up of House of Commons select committee chairmen.
Annabelle Dickson and Andrew McDonald contributed reporting.