Fri | Aug 12, 2022

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in PM job after top ministers quit

Published:Wednesday | July 6, 2022 | 8:14 AM
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is battling to stay in power after his government was rocked by the resignation of two top ministers. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled to stay in power Wednesday after the resignation of two top ministers and a slew of more junior officials, who said they could no longer serve under his scandal-tarred leadership.

Johnson is known for his uncanny ability to wiggle out of tight spots, but a series of accusations of misdeeds have pushed him to the brink, and some of his fellow Conservative lawmakers now worry that the leader renowned for his affability could be a liability in elections.

Many are also are concerned about the ability of a weakened Johnson, who only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote last month, to govern at a time of increasing economic and social strain.

At the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session in Parliament on Wednesday, members of the opposition Labour Party shouted “Go! Go!”

Then, more damningly, members of his own Conservative Party challenged the leader. Lawmaker Tim Loughton was the first to ask whether there was anything that might prompt him to resign.

“Frankly the job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he's been given a colossal mandate, is to keep going,” Johnson replied.

His fellow Conservatives listened quietly, offering little support.

The grilling was the first of two challenges Wednesday for the leader. He must still get through a long-scheduled interrogation by a committee of senior lawmakers later in the day.

How he handles the tough questions could indicate whether a simmering rebellion in his Conservative Party can gather enough strength to oust him. Also on the horizon is a vote in a powerful party committee that could signal whether lawmakers have the appetite to push for another no-confidence measure.

Months of discontent over Johnson's judgement and ethics within the governing Conservative Party erupted with the resignations of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening. The two heavyweights of the Cabinet were responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a scathing letter, Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. … I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Javid said the party needed “humility, grip and a new direction” but “it is clear this situation will not change under your leadership.”

Mindful of the need to shore up confidence, Johnson quickly replaced the two ministers, promoting Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to treasury chief and installing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.

But a string of resignations late Tuesday and early Wednesday from more junior ministers — from both the liberal and right-wing branches of the Conservative Party — showed that danger to Johnson was far from over.

In the past few months, Johnson has been fined by police and slammed by an investigator's report for government parties that flouted the COVID-19 restrictions they imposed on others; saw 41% of Conservative lawmakers vote to oust him in the no-confidence vote; and watched formerly loyal lieutenants urge him to resign.

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