British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told MPs he would “keep going” despite a growing list of Conservative ministers and other officials resigning in protest over his handling of the case of a senior official accused of sexual misconduct.
A delegation of Cabinet ministers planned to meet with Johnson at his Downing Street office on Wednesday evening to press him to resign, according to British media reports. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and longtime loyalist Brandon Lewis were among those expected to demand that he quit.
“The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going. And that’s what I’m going to do,” Johnson said earlier at the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament.
David Davis, a Conservative legislator who had previously called on the 58-year-old leader to resign, told parliament that he was again asking Johnson: “to do the honourable thing, to put the interests of the nation before his own interest, and before … it does become impossible for government to do its job.”
Johnson said he did not believe that it was against the national interest for him to remain as prime minister.
“I thank him very much for the point he’s made again. I just couldn’t disagree with him more,” Johnson said.
Later on Wednesday, James Duddridge, a Conservative lawmaker and close aide of Johnson, told Sky News the British leader “is buoyant, he is up for a fight” after a meeting with members of his top cabinet team.
Duddridge said Johnson and the newly-appointed finance minister Nadhim Zahawi would set out a new joint plan for the economy next week which would include tax cuts.
Johnson sacked Michael Gove, a senior minister who media earlier said had told the British leader he should quit.
On Wednesday night, Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart joined those resigning.
The attorney general for England and Wales, Suella Braverman, also called on Johnson to resign and became the first cabinet minister to say they would run to replace him in any Conservative Party leadership contest.
“I do think the time has come for the prime minister to step down,” Braverman said on ITV. She said she did not want to resign from her post. “If there is a leadership contest I will put my name into the ring.”
The developments came a day after Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid quit, saying the prime minister was not fit to govern.
Johnson quickly replaced the two men but a string of junior ministers have also quit and his support inside the Conservative Party is shrinking rapidly.
Opponents hope to change party rules to allow a new no-confidence vote on Johnson. He survived one such vote last month, with 41 percent of MPs voting against him.
The Conservative Party committee governing the rules, the so-called 1922 Committee, has decided to hold an election to its executive on Monday, before deciding whether to change the rules to bring forward a confidence vote in Johnson, three Conservative lawmakers told the Reuters news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London, said a potential confidence vote could take later this month.
“Several members of the Conservative Party, who are very, very strong critics of Boris Johnson, will be standing for election to that executive with the intention of immediately changing the rules, hoping to force a new confidence vote before the parliament rises for the summer break and that’s on July 21,” he said.
Sexual misconduct scandal
The scandal that kick-started the political crisis involved Chris Pincher, the deputy chief whip, who resigned last week after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men.
Downing Street at first denied Johnson knew of prior allegations against Pincher when appointing him in February.
But by Tuesday, that defence had collapsed after a former top civil servant said Johnson, as foreign minister, was told in 2019 about another incident involving his ally.
Minister for Children and Families Will Quince quit on Wednesday, saying he was given inaccurate information before having to defend the government in a round of media interviews on Monday.
That triggered a new wave of more than a dozen resignations and the withdrawal of support from previously loyal MPs.
The Pincher affair was the “icing on the cake” for Sunak and Javid, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, a strident Johnson critic, told the Sky News broadcaster.
“I and a lot of the party now are determined that he will be gone by the summer recess (starting on July 22): the sooner the better,” he said.
The resignations dominated the British media, with even some of Johnson’s staunchest newspaper backers doubting whether he could survive the fallout.
Other senior cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, still back Johnson but many were wondering how long that may last.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a doggedly loyal cabinet ally and Johnson’s minister for Brexit opportunities dismissed the resignations as “little local difficulties”.
“Losing chancellors is something that happens,” he said on Sky News, pointing to past Tory leaders – although Margaret Thatcher was ultimately felled by a cabinet revolt by top allies.
Sunak’s departure in particular, in the middle of policy differences over a cost-of-living crisis sweeping Britain, is dismal news for Johnson.
Pincher’s departure from the whips’ office – charged with enforcing party discipline and standards – marked yet another allegation of sexual misconduct by Tories in recent months, recalling the “sleaze” that dogged John Major’s government in the 1990s.
Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned in April after he was caught watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons.
That prompted a by-election in his previously safe seat, which the party went on to lose in a historic victory for the opposition Liberal Democrats.
Labour, the main opposition party, defeated the Conservatives in another by-election in northern England on the same day, prompted by the conviction of its Tory MP for sexual assault.