British PM Boris Johnson resigns, but will stay on until new leader is chosen

Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was resigning as Britain's prime minister, but will stay on until his Conservative Party chooses a new leader.

Johnson may now face opposition over his plan to serve as caretaker PM for several weeks

Boris Johnson will step down as British PM after slew of resignations

3 months ago
Duration 2:17
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will resign after multiple ministers, including close allies, quit his government. Johnson said he will remain in office until his successor is chosen.

Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was resigning as Britain's prime minister, bowing to calls from ministerial colleagues and lawmakers in his Conservative Party.

After more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, an isolated and powerless Johnson spoke outside 10 Downing Street and confirmed he would resign.

"The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place," Johnson said.

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take weeks or months.

Johnson admitted it was "painful" not to carry on the work of his government well into the future, with his resignation announcement coming just over two and a half years after he won a resounding victory in a late 2019 election.

"My friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable," he said.

Transition plan 'unwise,' critics say

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said before the announcement he would call a parliamentary confidence vote if the Conservatives did not remove Johnson at once.

"If they don't get rid of him, then Labour will step up in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence because we can't go on with this prime minister clinging on for months and months to come," he said.

It's also not clear if the majority of his party will support his staying on for several more weeks, though it appeared to have the support of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who called it "the right decision."

"We need calmness and unity now and to keep governing while a new leader is found," Truss tweeted.

But several current lawmakers and at least one high-profile party member said Johnson's plan to stay on was untenable.

Simon Hoare, a Conservative member of parliament, said Johnson's behaviour meant he had forfeited the right to remain as a caretaker leader.

"Ministers resigned because of the PM. The party lost confidence because of the PM. It is beyond credulity that Mr. Johnson can stay in office," said Hoare.

Former Conservative prime minister John Major also questioned the plan.

"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.

'Them's the breaks,' Johnson says

After days of battling for his job, the scandal-plagued Johnson had been deserted by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other Tuesday over the latest scandal, involving Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher.

Media gather near 10 Downing Street in London on Thursday in anticipation of Johnson's expected announcement. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

The crisis comes as Britons are facing the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with soaring inflation, and the economy forecast to be the weakest among major nations in 2023 apart from Russia.

It also follows years of internal division sparked by the narrow 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and threats to the make-up of the United Kingdom itself with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.

Johnson in his brief speech pointed to what he viewed as accomplishments of his government, including delivering the Brexit that eluded his predecessor, Theresa May, steering Britain's rebound from the ravages of COVID-19 and the recent, vocal support and military aid for Ukraine as it fights off Russia's invasion.

"I know that there will be many people who are relieved and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world," Johnson said in a speech outside Downing Street.

"But them's the breaks," he said.

Scandals and missteps

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member's club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

Carrie Johnson, the wife of Boris Johnson, cradles their daughter Romy as she listens to her husband's speech outside 10 Downing Street alongside party members that include Nadine Dorries, right, one of the prime minister's most steadfast allies. (Gareth Fuller/PA/The Associated Press)

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday. Johnson was accused of lying about his knowledge of, and attendance at, the parties.

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

Johnson's Conservatives have been hit by other scandals of lawmakers accused of sexual improprieties, including two that led to MPs Ahmad Khan and Neil Parish resigning. In both cases, the Conservatives lost special elections held last month to replace them.

Johnson, 58, seemed set to dig in despite the resignations this week, and in his speech appeared to lament what he characterized as "the herd instinct" at Westminster. On Wednesday, he sacked Michael Gove, a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he needed to resign.

With files from CBC News