Boris Johnson, the prime minister who oversaw the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and his country’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, has announced his resignation, having lost the support of top cabinet ministers.
“The process of choosing that new leader should begin now,” Johnson said on Thursday at the door of Number 10 Downing Street. “And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place.”
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He thanked his voters: “Thank you for that incredible mandate, the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, the biggest share of the vote since 1979.”
“And the reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019,” Johnson said.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London, highlighted that Johnson offered no apology in his resignation speech.
“There is also no timetable for his departure. He says it will be announced next week, but we know from this morning that Boris Johnson is rather keen to stay on as a caretaker until autumn when a new leader from the Conservative Party should be in place in time for the annual Conservative Party conference,” he said.
In recent days, the 58-year-old had faced a huge internal revolt in his Conservative Party for appointing a politician accused of sexual assault as an MP.
He has also been heavily criticised for breaking lockdown rules during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, the chancellor and the health minister, quit citing the government’s lack of “integrity” and “competence”.
That set off a series of resignations, with several other top ministers either quitting or calling on Johnson to resign.
Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party, said Johnson’s departure was “good news”, but just changing the leader of the Conservative party was not enough.
“We need a proper change of government,” he said.
Chris Wilkins, a former strategy director and chief speech-writer for UK’s Former Prime Minister Theresa May, told Al Jazeera that it would wrong of Johnson to stay on until October as a caretaker prime minister.
“He needs to step aside now. There needs to be a new caretaker prime minister to come in, the people who have resigned given their roles back whilst the leadership contest takes place,” he said.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also said Johnson should not be allowed to stay in the job temporarily, and said a general election would be in the country’s interest.
“It is quite incredible to suggest that he will remain as prime minister for another three to four months,” Sturgeon said in a televised statement.
Asked about a general election, she said she thought holding one would be “in the interests of the UK as a whole right now”, but that she thought that outcome was unlikely.
Johnson had been clinging on to power despite a wave of more than 50 government resignations.
But Thursday’s departure of education minister Michelle Donelan and a plea to quit from finance minister Nadhim Zahawi, only in their jobs for two days, appeared to tip the balance.