Boris Johnson clinging to power: What you need to know

UK government is on the brink after the latest scandal to have hit the Conservative prime minister’s administration in recent months.

Boris Johnson speaks to lawmakers.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing two high stakes encounters in Parliament [Justin Tallis/Pool via AP]

Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, is fighting for his political future after the shock resignations of two senior ministers triggered a string of departures from a number of other government members.

Johnson’s finance and health secretaries quit on Tuesday, saying he was not fit to govern in the wake of the latest in a series of scandals to have hit his administration in recent months.

A growing number of lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party have said time is up, but Johnson has shown a resolve to remain in office and swiftly moved to reshuffle his cabinet.

Here is what you need to know.

What happened?

  • The resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid came as Johnson was apologising for appointing MP Christopher Pincher to a role involved in offering pastoral care to his party, even after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.
  • Critics including former top Foreign Office official Simon MacDonald accused Johnson’s office of lying about not being aware of the Pincher’s misconduct.
  • Pincher had resigned on June 30 as deputy chief whip of the Conservative Party amid complaints that he had allegedly groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations levelled against Pincher and questions about why Johnson promoted him to a senior job enforcing party discipline.
  • On Wednesday, Minister for Children and Families Will Quince also resigned from the cabinet, saying he was going after being given an “inaccurate” briefing over Johnson’s appointment of a politician who was the subject of complaints.
  • The resignations come after months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into parties that broke strict COVID-19 lockdowns and the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish after he was caught watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons.
  • Johnson has also come under fire for not doing enough to tackle a cost-of-living crisis, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices. Economists say the country is now heading for a sharp slowdown or possibly a recession.

Are there attempts to unseat Johnson?

  • The level of hostility Johnson is confronting from within his own party will be laid bare on Wednesday when he is due to appear before legislators for his weekly question session, before later facing the chairs of parliamentary committees for a scheduled two-hour grilling.
  • A month ago, Johnson survived a confidence vote of Conservative MPs, and party rules mean he cannot face another such challenge for a year. However, some legislators are seeking to change those rules.
  • In his resignation letter, Javid said: “It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”
  • Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said it was “clear that this government is now collapsing”.
  • The prime minister is also facing a parliamentary probe into whether he lied to MPs over the lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

Can Johnson survive yet another political crisis?

  • A snap YouGov poll found 69 percent of Britons thought Johnson should step down as prime minister but for the time being the remainder of his top ministerial team, including Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, offered their backing.
  • Truss, considered a leading contender to replace Johnson, said she was “100 percent behind” the prime minister.
  • A number of Conservative MPs have expressed their unwavering loyalty to Johnson. “I fully support the prime minister,” Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said. “I am sorry to see good colleagues resign, but we have a big job of work to do, and that’s what we’re getting on with.”
  • Johnson has demonstrated his resolve to stay in office by appointing Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahaw to the post of finance minister following the resignation of Sunak. Steve Barclay, appointed to impose discipline in Johnson’s administration in February, was moved to the health portfolio.

Who has resigned so far?

On Tuesday:

  • Rishi Sunak, finance minister
  • Sajid Javid, health secretary
  • Bim Afolami, Conservative Party vice chair
  • Saqib Bhatti, parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to secretary of state for health and social care
  • Jonathan Gullis, PPS to secretary of state for Northern Ireland
  • Nicola Richards, PPS for Department of Transport
  • Alex Chalk, solicitor general for England and Wales
  • Virginia Crosbie, PPS to the Wales Office
  • Theo Clarke, trade envoy to Kenya
  • Andrew Murrison, trade envoy to Morocco

On Wednesday:

  • John Glen, financial services minister
  • Victoria Atkins, junior home office minister
  • Stuart Andrew, junior housing minister
  • Felicity Buchan, PPS in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • Will Quince, minister for children and families
  • Laura Trott, PPS to the Department of Transport
  • Robin Walker, minister of state for school standards
  • Jo Churchill, under-secretary in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • Selaine Saxby, PPS to DEFRA
  • Claire Coutinho, PPS to the Treasury
  • David Johnston, PPS to the Department of Education
  • Duncan Baker, PPS to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Craig Williams, PPS to the finance ministry
  • Rachel Maclean, under-secretary in the Department for Transport
  • Mark Logan, PPS to the Northern Ireland Office
  • Mike Freer, minister for exports and equalities
  • Mims Davies, employment minister
  • Kemi Badenoch, minister for equalities
  • Neil O’Brien, a junior minister at Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
  • Alex Burghart, a junior minister in the Department for Education
  • Lee Rowley, a junior minister in BEIS
  • Julia Lopez, a junior minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)
  • Sara Britcliffe, PPS to the Department for Education
  • Ruth Edwards, PPS to the Scottish Office
  • Peter Gibson, PPS to the Department for International Trade
  • James Sunderland, PPS to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • David Duguid, trade envoy to Angola and Zambia
  • Simon Hart, secretary of state for Wales
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies