The prime minister is again under pressure to resign following the outcome of Sue Gray’s report into Partygate allegations and damaging Tory by-election defeats.
by: Liam Geraghty, Sam Gelder, Evie Breese and Alastair Reid
5 Jul 2022
Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign following his apology for attending a Downing Stret party during the UK’s first national lockdown in May 2020. Image: Andrew Parsons/Number 10
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s days are numbered as Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Conservative Party deputy chair Bim Alufomi resigned on Tuesday evening kicking off two days of resignations that has left the PM’s administration in chaos.
Sunak and Javid tweeted their resignation letters hours after Johnson was forced to apologise for appointing Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip, who recently resigned amid accusations of sexual assault and drunken behaviour, having been warned of similar allegations against the MP in 2019. Senior cabinet ministers had spent days defending the prime minister and Pincher’s appointment in the media.
“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak wrote in his letter.
Javid said: “The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately your country… We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent at acting in the national interest.
“Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither.”
Afolami later resigned live on TalkTV.
Since then, more than 50 of Johnsons’ government ministers have resigned, including cabinet ministers Simon Hart and Brandon Lewis, while he also sacked Michael Gove.
The resignations follow months of chaos in the Johnson administration, with constant revelations about a culture of rule-breaking, drinking and partying in government offices during pandemic lockdowns, a string of resignations in the Conservative party for sexual misconduct, billions wasted during the coronavirus pandemic while working families struggle with runaway inflation and tens of thousands of deaths during the pandemic due to ramshackle government policy.
So will Boris Johnson resign?
What has Boris Johnson said?
Johnson has repeatedly refused to bow to pressure in the face of previous scandals and even as the resignations stacked up on Wednesday he was in bullish mood, telling MPs at the Liasion Committee he was determined to get on with the job.
But on Thursday he accepted that it was over and tendered his resignation, offering to carry on as prime minister through the summer until a replacement is named.
Before his resignation Johnson survived a confidence vote in his leadership from Conservative MPs at the start of June, after which he insisted it was an “extremely good, positive, conclusive, decisive result” that would allow him to “move on to unite and focus on delivery”.
Johnson is theoretically safe from another confidence vote for a year thanks to rules in the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, but rumours have swirled since Conservatives lost two by-elections in late June that rebels may seek to change the rules to oust him sooner.
Labour and the Lib Dems took the two seats in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield after their respective Tory MPs amid sex scandals.
The losses followed months of uproar at a series of parties in Downing Street and Whitehall revealed in the press, for which both Johnson and Sunak received fixed penalty notices from the Metropolitan Police.
Following the publication of the full Sue Gray report – and damning photos of the PM appearing to toast attendees at Downing Street in May – Johnson told the Commons he took “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch”. He added that he had been “humbled” by the experience and brought in changes in Whitehall.
However, Johnson stayed in post as the conflict in Ukraine began and often used the war to deflect attention, pinning the cost of living crisis on hostilities and travelling to Kyiv during the by-elections to assert his status as a leader and diplomat.
But when it came to his future, the prime minister said it was time for everyone else – not him – to “move on”.
Similarly, after the Conservatives’ double by-election defeat on June 23, Johnson said he would “listen to voters” but “keep going”.
Who has called for Boris Johnson to resign?
Unsurprisingly, opposition MPs have been calling for Johnson’s head all year but there had been rising discontent in the prime minister’s party as well before the prime minister’s response to allegations made against former deputy chief whip Christopher Pincher pushed scores of ministers to urge him to quit.
The resignations of Javid and Sunak kicked off a run of resignations that has even seen Sunak’s replacement as chancellor Nadhim Zahawi publicly call for him to go just 24 hours after he was appointed.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for Johnson to stand down as prime minister immediately. The opposition leader threatened a no-confidence vote from Labour if Johnson carries on beyond Thursday.
“He needs to go, he can’t cling on,” Starmer said.
“His own party has decided it’s time – so they can’t inflict him on the country for the next few months.”
Johnson had seen off a confidence vote in June with party rules protecting him from another challenge for a year.
But 148 Tory MPs voted against him – 41 per cent of his MPs in Westminster. He did, however, survive the challenge although it has left him severely weakened.
There are plenty of critics in the party, including some senior Tory MPs. Ahead of the vote former cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom criticised “unacceptable failings of leadership” in a letter to constituents.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has called for Johnson to step down for much of his stint in Number 10 while Caroline Nokes, Tobias Ellwood and Steve Baker are among the Tories who have also questioned his future.
Some MPs have even left the Conservative Party due to Johnson’s leadership.
One MP, Bury South’s Christian Wakeford even left the party over the scandal in January. Opting to defect from the Conservatives to Labour just minutes before Johnson was due to face Prime Minister’s Questions on January 19.
The Bury South MP had previously confirmed he was one of the Tory ministers who had submitted a letter of no-confidence.
Who is Sue Gray and what did her investigation find?
Civil servant Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, was tasked with investigating allegations of a number of parties that took place at Downing Street and in Whitehall during lockdowns when restrictions were in place to limit the spread of the virus.
Gray’s report, released in a stripped-down version on January 31 following a request by police, did not pass judgement on whether any of the gatherings broke Covid rules, but bemoans a failure of leadership in Downing Street.
“There were failures of leadership and judgement by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times,” Gray wrote.
“Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”
The full report was published on May 25. It included blow-by-blow accounts of each of the parties investigated, and in her conclusion, Gray wrote that senior leadership “must bear responsibility for this culture”.
She stated: “At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”
The senior civil servant recommended departments put in place their own alcohol policies and called for reform of management structures in Number 10.
Who has already resigned from the Partygate fallout?
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden was among those that stepped down following the Partygate scandal – but the affair did not trigger the same amount of resignations as the prime minister’s response to the Christopher Pincher scandal.
Five of the prime minister’s Downing Street staff resigned in February. Former chief of policy Munira Mirza, who had worked for Johnson for 14 years, wrote a public letter of resignation after he tried to use a false claim about Jimmy Saville to deflect attention from the scandal during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, director of communications Jack Doyle, and special adviser Elena Narozanski also announced their departure, as did Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary Martin Reynolds – author of the invite to the party held May 20 2020 in the garden of Number 10 that asked attendees to “bring your own booze”.
Amid jokes about “cheese and wine” Stratton laughs and says “this is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting” before adding, through stifled laughs, “and it was not socially distanced”.
Almost 700 people died of coronavirus on the day the footage was filmed, on December 22. Some 514 died on the day of the alleged party, on December 18. Downing Street has repeatedly denied a party took place.
However, while the Partygate scandal may not have seen legions of Conservative ministers quit government, the prime minister’s response to the Christopher Pincher scandal has sparked resignations and calls to quit from a vast proportion of Johnson’s government.