After months of defiance and pandemic controversy, Boris Johnson has quit as British prime minister.
Mr Johnson’s announcement came at 9.30pm Thursday (Australian time), after days of fevered speculation and chaos.
“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader, and therefore a new prime minister,” he said outside No.10 Downing Street.
“And that process should begin now.”
It followed media reports that Mr Johnson, 58, was preparing to stand down, but wanted to remain in the top job until the northern autumn as the Conservatives began their search for a new leader.
Despite surviving a vote of no confidence in Parliament last month, Mr Johnson departure followed his abandonment by newly appointed ministers and more than 50 others in the past two days.
With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning within two hours on Thursday, an isolated and powerless Mr Johnson had to bow to the inevitable.
It followed the spectacular resignation of more than 40 ministers and aides who quit in one day on Wednesday, even as Mr Johnson dug in his heels and refused to budge.
Earlier on Thusday, Britain’s new finance minister Nadhim Zahawi told Mr Johnson to resign – less than 48 hours after the PM promoted him. Mr Zahawi said the crisis engulfing the government would only get worse unless Mr Johnson departed.
“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse, for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” Mr Zahawi tweeted.
“You must do the right thing and go now.”
Mr Johnson’s colleagues said he was not fit to be in charge after a series of scandals, while dozens in his Conservative Party are in open revolt.
Under Tory party rules Mr Johnson was protected as leader for another 11 months from a new vote.
But some MPs wanted to change those rules and his frustrated colleagues brought things to a head by trying to force his departure from the top job. There was a parade of MPs through Mr Johnson’s Downing Street office before his announcement on Thursday.
The rebellion followed yet another scandal in which Mr Johnson appointed an MP to a key role, even after he was briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.
It was far cry from when the one-time London mayor rose to power in 2019, when he won a large majority, capturing votes in parts of Britain that had never supported his Conservative Party.
The defiant Mr Johnson had suggested that he had a mandate to govern from the almost 14 million voters who voted for the Conservatives in December 2019 when he swept to power with a promise to sort out Britain’s exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.
The latest crisis erupted after MP Chris Pincher, a government whip, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.
Mr Johnson had to apologise after it emerged that he was briefed that Mr Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him.
The issue followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into parties at Mr Johnson’s Downing Street residence and office that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules and resulted in him being him fined by police.