Boris Johnson stayed in power on Tuesday night after the dramatic resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid from cabinet within minutes.
Downing Street is bracing for more ministers to resign, with many Conservative MPs believing the exit of two senior ministers could herald the beginning of the end for Johnson.
But when a number of other ministers – including Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Upgrade Secretary Michael Gove – said they would stay, Downing Street’s The atmosphere was relieved.
Many Conservative MPs believe Johnson’s term as prime minister is coming to an end. Cabinet unity has broken down last month when more than 40% of MPs said they had no confidence in their leaders.
Sunak and Javid criticized the prime minister’s actions, with Sunak saying in a scathing resignation letter: “The public rightly expects the government to do it right, competently and seriously.”
On a day Johnson’s honesty was called into question, Sunak suggested the prime minister was ready to deceive voters about the need for a country facing economic crisis and “hard decisions”.
“I believe the public is ready to hear the truth,” he said, adding that Johnson and he “fundamentally” disagree on economic policy. “Our people know that if something is too good to be true, it’s not true.”
Loyal Conservative MPs said Johnson told them he was now more likely to propose early tax cuts, a policy popular with the Conservative right but Sunak feared could fuel inflation as inflation headed into double digits inflation.
Sunak’s resignation comes minutes after his longtime friend Javid resigned. “The tone you set as a leader, the values you stand for, reflect your colleagues, your party, and ultimately shape the nation,” Javid said in the letter.
The resignations of Sunak and Javid come after infamous former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher was forced to leave last week after allegations that he groped two men while drunk at a private members club.
Downing Street has insisted for days that Johnson had not been informed of Pincher’s “specific allegations” of wrongdoing in the past. On Tuesday, Johnson admitted he was briefed on the allegations in 2019, but he forgot. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” one minister said.
With ministers reluctant to publicly defend Johnson, the prime minister gave an interview to the BBC before resigning and apologised for appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip in February. “In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do,” he said.
But just as Johnson’s belated apology was airing, Javid announced his resignation. The health minister, who resigned as prime minister in 2020 after a power struggle with MP 10, believes he can be the unifying figure of a future Tory leader.
In his resignation letter, Javid said: “Last month’s vote of confidence showed that many of our colleagues agreed. This is a time for humility, assurance and a new direction. I regret to say, however, that I am well aware that this is the situation in your will not change under his leadership.”
Sunak’s allies insist the resignations were not coordinated, but their departure from cabinet now means Johnson has two potential leadership opponents in the back seat.
The former chancellor said he and Johnson had “fundamentally different” attitudes to the economy; the two men’s proposed joint economic speech proved impossible to agree on.
A ministerial ally of Sunak said the main difference between the outgoing prime minister and the prime minister was that “one is sound and the other is a clown”.
Johnson must now move quickly to appoint a new chancellor, with Finance Minister Simon Clark and Johnson’s chief of staff, former Treasurer Steve Barclay, being considered as potential replacements.
Markets will be watching closely for signs of what the change of chancellor’s term means for future economic policy, including the possibility of an easy fiscal regime that could force the Bank of England to raise interest rates more quickly.
On Tuesday night, some Conservative MPs called for Johnson to resign. Next week, the party will elect a new executive for the backbench 1922 committee, which sets the rules for the leadership contest.
The list of candidates opposed to Johnson is expected to push for changes to party rules to allow another early vote of no confidence in the prime minister; current rules say such a vote can only be held every 12 months.
Labour leader Sir Kilstarmer said: “After all the vileness, scandals and failures it is clear this government is now falling apart.” Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed David said: “A card built on lies and deceit The house is crumbling.”