Boris Johnson’s government imploded this week. The British Prime Minister has finally exhausted his nine lives after a seemingly endless series of scandals and controversies, collapsing in on himself like a dying star.
The United Kingdom’s government is in crisis. After more than one-third of the ministers in his government resigned in a two-day period, Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister. Britain is set for its fourth Conservative prime minister in 12 years once his successor is selected this fall.
- Johnson’s government has been buffeted by a seemingly endless series of controversies – a sleazy lobbying imbroglio, the lockdown-busting “Partygate” affair, and others that culminated in brutal by-election defeats in safe Conservative seats and a June vote of no confidence that he only narrowly survived.
- The latest scandal involving relatively obscure Deputy Government Whip Chris Pincher was the last straw. Last Wednesday, the fittingly named Pincher allegedly groped two men while drunk.
- It quickly emerged Pincher, an apparent sex pest, had a history of allegedly groping men and Johnson knew of these complaints when he brought Pincher into government. Johnson reportedly used the phrase, “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” when referring to his onetime loyalist.
- Barely one week after Pincher pinched two men, two top Cabinet ministers – Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid – resigned their posts on Tuesday and called for Johnson to resign. Their resignations opened the floodgates.
- More than 45 other ministers would resign in the following 24 hours, the most single-day resignations in British history. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer mocked those who remained as “a pathetic spectacle” and “the charge of the lightweight brigade.”
- A delegation of Cabinet ministers met with Johnson late Wednesday and urged him to step down. Johnson responded to the mutiny by sacking “snake” Secretary of State for Levelling Up (a real position) Michael Gove.
- Gove famously betrayed Johnson in 2016, blowing up Johnson’s leadership campaign on the tarmac. Gove went to Johnson with “the metaphorical bottle of whiskey and [a] revolver,” but as a Tory MP put it: “Clearly Boris has downed the whiskey and turned the revolver on Michael Gove.”
- The Prime Minister vowed to fight on, insisting his huge general election win was more important than his party’s clear lack of faith in his leadership, but further resignations this morning made that impossible.
- Opposition Leader Starmer called Johnson’s implosion “the first recorded case of sinking ships fleeing the rat.”
- The British Pound rose 0.5% against the dollar and the London Stock Exchange’s marquee FTSE stock index rose 1% upon news of the PM’s resignation.
- Johnson ultimately decided to jump before he was pushed. If Johnson didn’t resign first, he could have been kicked out by his own party by Tuesday. Shockingly, the man who won a landslide election victory just 2½ years ago is finished.
- The New York Times walked American readers through the intricacies of the British parliamentary system and explained in detail the effect of the resignations on his ability to govern.
- Politico published a timeline of the chaotic 24 hours that put Johnson on the brink. Johnson apologized for the Pincher scandal at 6 pm Tuesday, and within 11 minutes Javid and Sunak resigned in protest. By 6 pm the next day, even loyal Johnson supporters were urging him to go.
- The Guardian covered Johnson’s Thursday morning resignation speech. Johnson accused his party of adopting a “herd” mentality and summed up his misfortunes by saying simply, “Them’s the breaks.”
- Fox News traced the series of scandals that put Johnson’s premiership on the road to ruin, from ‘Partygate,’ to Pincher to his own tawdry sex scandals.
- In a blast from the past, the Daily Mail reported former Prime Minister Theresa May could be brought in as interim PM if Johnson resigns. A May caretaker premiership “would have an ‘element of epic schadenfreude to it, given [Boris Johnson] knifed her in the first place.” Johnson pledged to stay on as prime minister until his successor is selected, but many Members of Parliament expressed opposition to this plan.
- The Telegraph covered Attorney General Suella Braverman’s decision to launch a leadership bid to succeed her boss, even though he hadn’t resigned yet. Ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, past Johnson rival Jeremy Hunt, ex-Health chief Sajid Javid and new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, in office all of two days before turning on his boss, are also expected to run.
The longer it took Johnson to leave, the longer Britain’s government would have been paralyzed. The sheer volume of resignations has left Britain without “enough people to keep the business of government going.” This will have real consequences for people who depend on government services or for businesses that deal with the government, not to mention in Ukraine where Britain has been the war-torn country’s strongest supporter. Even with his resignation, Britain will stagger on with either Johnson or a caretaker PM and a diminished Cabinet for months until a new Prime Minister is selected.
However, it would take a heart of stone not to appreciate the utterly farcical nature of Johnson’s downfall. From “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature,” ministers tweeting out their letters of no confidence mid-conversation with their boss or announcing they’d run against their boss without bothering to quit, to the BBC suggesting the Downing Street cat was actually the prime minister and Johnson firing an old rival purely for revenge, this crisis has been nothing if not entertaining.
The viral Tweets spawned by this crisis have just been tremendous. After years of “covfefe,” shaking hands with no one, and other bizarre moments from the last six years of American gerontocracy, it’s good to be reminded other countries’ politics can be just as shambolic as ours.
© Dominic Moore, 2022