Jul 5, 2022 - World

Boris Johnson's government in crisis as two Cabinet ministers resign

Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak
From left: Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photo: Frank Augstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Two of the U.K.'s top Cabinet ministers resigned in quick succession Tuesday in protest of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's handling of misconduct allegations against a Conservative Party lawmaker.

Why it matters: Johnson's premiership is on the brink of collapse. He survived a no-confidence vote last month over lockdown-breaking parties that have severely damaged his popularity, but will now face new pressure to resign.

Driving the news: In the latest scandal to rock the British government, Johnson's spokesperson admitted Tuesday that the prime minister had been made aware of a sexual misconduct complaint against Conservative MP Chris Pincher in 2019 — but then "forgot" about it.

  • Pincher was promoted to deputy chief whip under Johnson's government in February, before dramatically resigning over the weekend over allegations he groped two men at a club.
  • Pincher said he had "embarrassed himself" after drinking too much and is now seeking professional support.
  • Johnson said Tuesday he "bitterly" regretted the decision not to act on the complaint against Pincher, and that elevating him to a top position "was the wrong thing to do."

What they're saying: Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who resigned as Johnson's Chancellor of the Exchequer once before in 2020, wrote Tuesday that last month's no-confidence vote should have been a "moment for humility, grip and new direction."

  • "I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership - and you have therefore lost my confidence too," Javid wrote.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was once seen as the likeliest successor to Johnson before seeing his own popularity plunge during the "Partygate" scandal, wrote in his resignation letter that the "public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously."

  • "I [recognize] this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning," Sunak wrote.

Between the lines: Sunak's resignation as finance minister is seen as an especially significant blow, given that the U.K. is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

  • Sunak wrote in his letter that he determined Johnson's approach to the economy is "fundamentally too different" from his own to continue serving.

The latest: Several junior government ministers and MPs who supported Johnson during the no-confidence submitted their resignations after Sunak and Javid — another indication that Johnson's days may be numbered.

The big picture: Speculation about Johnson's future has swirled for months, as his approval rating has plummeted over a string of successive scandals that include allegations of abusing public funds, seeking a high-paying government role for his then-mistress, and protecting allies accused of bad behavior.

  • In a key test last month, the Conservatives lost two parliamentary seats in a pair of critical by-elections — prompting the resignation of the party chairman.
  • Johnson has repeatedly refused to resign despite significant pressure from the public and his own party, and even vowed last month to remain prime minister into the "mid-2030s."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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