Jan 19, 2022 - World

Ex-Brexit secretary invokes Chamberlain in calling for Johnson to resign

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be ousted from power within the week, after a longtime ally compared him to Neville Chamberlain in a stunning rebuke in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Johnson is under immense pressure from the public and his own Conservative Party over allegations that he lied about lockdown-breaking parties in his Downing Street home.

  • His position is growing more tenuous by the hour; dozens of Conservative MPs have called for him to resign, creeping close to the 15% minimum needed to trigger a vote of no confidence.
  • Moments before Johnson entered Parliament to face the debate on Wednesday, a Conservative MP elected in 2019 dramatically crossed the floor to join the opposition Labour Party.
  • Then came the intervention from David Davis, who served as Brexit Secretary from 2016 to 2018.

What they're saying: "I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. So, I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear: Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain," Davis teed off from the back-benches:

"You have sat there too long for all the good that you have done. In the name of God, go."

Why it matters: If Johnson is forced to resign in the coming days, Davis's speech will likely be viewed as the catalyst for his downfall.

  • He is the most senior Conservative member of Parliament (MP) to demand Johnson step down, intensifying a rebellion initially sparked by lawmakers elected during the 2019 election that swept Johnson into Downing Street.
  • Davis was first elected to Parliament in 1987, when Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister, and ardently supported Johnson throughout his campaign to deliver Brexit — Johnson's signature achievement, and the main reason he had commanded the support of his party throughout multiple scandals.

Flashback: Leopold Amery's use of the quote — which was invoked for the first time by Oliver Cromwell in 1653 — came during the Norway Debate in 1940, when the then-pro-appeasement Prime Minister Chamberlain was under fire for the trajectory of Britain's war against Hitler.

  • Chamberlain resigned days later, paving the way for Winston Churchill to become prime minister.
  • Johnson, who wrote a biography of Churchill, responded implausibly to Davis's broadside: "I must say to him, I don’t know what he is talking about."

What to watch: Johnson has deferred all questions on the parties to an ongoing independent investigation by a civil servant, the results of which could be published any day now. If the findings are as damaging as many expect, it could unleash a flood of new calls for his resignation.

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