Senior British cabinet members gathered in Downing Street on Wednesday, some reportedly urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign after dozens of ministers abandoned his scandal-hit government.
A cabinet delegation had waited for him to return from a lengthy grilling by a parliamentary committee to tell him his time was up, according to multiple reports.
It was said to include hardline Home Secretary Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi, who has barely 24 hours in his new role as finance minister.
But two Johnson loyalists – Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg – in the cabinet declared their unwavering support by also entering 10 Downing Street, and the crisis meeting continued more than two hours later.
“Bad mood in Downing Street. No 10 insider says ‘lots of tears’ in the building,’ tweeted respected Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar.
The 58-year-old leader’s grip on power has slipped since Tuesday night, when Rishi Sunak resigned as finance minister and Sajid Javid as health secretary.
Both said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal that dogged Johnson for months, including breaches of the lockdown law in Downing Street.
By Wednesday evening, a total of 38 ministers had resigned, mostly from junior posts outside the cabinet.
But during the parliamentary committee and an earlier question-and-answer session with parliament lawmakers, Johnson defiantly vowed to get on with the job.
“I’m not going to make routine commentary on political events,” he told the committee when asked about the cabinet delegation.
“We will continue with the government of the country.”
He added: “What we need is a stable government, loving each other as Tories, pursuing our priorities, that’s what we need to do.”
– ‘The problem starts at the top’ –
Earlier, Javid urged other ministers to step down.
“The problem starts at the top, and I believe that’s not going to change,” he said.
“And that means it’s up to those of us in the position – who have the responsibility – to make that change.”
Cries of “goodbye, Boris” echoed in the room at the end of his speech. Most Tories were remarkably quiet when Johnson attacked the Labor opposition at Prime Minister’s Questions. Some shook their heads.
Sunak and Javid resigned just minutes after Johnson apologized for appointing a senior Tory who quit his post last week after being accused of groping two drunk men.
Former education secretary Zahawi immediately received the finance package and acknowledged the difficult task ahead.
“You don’t come into this job to have an easy life,” Zahawi told Sky News.
Days of changing explanations had followed the resignation of Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher.
Downing Street initially denied that Johnson was aware of previous allegations against Pincher when he was appointed in February.
But on Tuesday that defense crumbled after a former senior official said Johnson, as foreign secretary, had been made aware in 2019 of another incident involving his ally.
Children and Families Minister Will Quince resigned early on Wednesday, saying he was given inaccurate information before he had to defend the government in a series of media interviews on Monday.
Tory critics said the Pincher case had turned many upside down, accusing the Prime Minister of turning a blind eye to sexual assaults.
Johnson only narrowly survived a vote of no confidence among Tory MPs a month ago, which would normally mean he could not be challenged again for a year.
But the influential ‘1922 Committee’ of non-Ministerial Tory MPs is reportedly seeking to change the rules, with its executive committee announcing on Wednesday that it will elect a new list of members next week.
A snapshot poll by Savanta ComRes on Wednesday indicated three in five Conservative voters say Johnson can’t win back the public’s trust, while 72% of all voters think he should quit.
– ‘Local difficulties’ –
Rees-Mogg, a cabinet loyalist and Johnson’s “Brexit opportunities minister”, called the resignations “small local difficulties”.
But the departure of Sunak in particular, amid political differences over a cost-of-living crisis sweeping Britain, was sad news for Johnson.
The Prime Minister, who was fined by the police over the so-called ‘Partygate’ affair, faces a parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied to MPs about the revelations.
Pincher’s departure from the whips office – tasked with enforcing party discipline and standards – marked yet another allegation of sexual misconduct by Tories in recent months, bringing to mind the ‘filth’ that has harassed the government of John Major in the 1990s.
Two Tory MPs were forced to resign in recent weeks, forcing by-elections that were won by opposition parties, sharpening the minds of party critics who fear a wider reckoning with the electorate if Johnson remains.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)