Britain’s Boris Johnson has pledged to fight on, saying he would not quit as prime minister despite support visibly seeping away from him with a stream of resignations.
Mr Johnson used a weekly question-and-answer session in parliament to try to tough it out, repeating his justifications for the latest scandal that triggered resignations from his government.
Earlier, he tried to reassert his authority by quickly appointing Nadhim Zahawi, a rising star in the Conservative Party widely credited for the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, as finance minister.
But his performance at prime minister’s questions was met with a muted response and, on occasion, open laughter. One member of Mr Johnson’s party asked if there would be any circumstances in which he should resign?
He responded that he would only quit if the government could not carry on.
Even some of his colleagues in his cabinet struggled to contain their laughter as the main opposition Labour leader poked fun at his cabinet for being the “the lightweight brigade”.
“When times are tough … is exactly the moment that you’d expect the government to continue with its work, not to walk away … to get on with our job and to focus on the things that matter to the people of this country,” Mr Johnson told parliament.
His finance and health secretaries quit on Tuesday following the latest scandal to hit the government, triggering the departure of about 15 lower-ranking politicians and the withdrawal of support of once loyal lawmakers.
Solicitor General Alex Chalk, the government’s second-most senior legal adviser, said the cumulative effect of a series of scandals meant the public no longer believed the government could uphold expected standards of candour.
“I regret that I share that judgment,” he said.
“Enough is enough, there’s just been one thing after another”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon says he woke up today “feeling even more angry. I think there’s a huge loss of trust… the public want a change, the party want a change”https://t.co/dJyPOyKKsf pic.twitter.com/RKte94Xo26
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 6, 2022
Mr Johnson, a former London mayor who became the face of Britain’s departure from the European Union, won a landslide election victory in 2019 before taking a combative and often chaotic approach to governing.
His leadership has been mired in scandals and missteps over the past few months, with the prime minister fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws and a damning report published about the behaviour of officials at his Downing Street office who breached their own lockdown rules.
There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defence of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism he has not done enough to tackle a cost-of-living crisis, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.
The Times newspaper said Mr Johnson’s “serial dishonesty” was “utterly corrosive” of effective government and “for the good of the country, he should go”.
The latest scandal saw Mr Johnson apologising for appointing a lawmaker to a role involved in party welfare and discipline, even after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.
Downing Street’s narrative changed several times over what the prime minister knew of the past behaviour of the politician, who was forced to resign, and when he knew it.
His spokesman blamed a lapse in Mr Johnson’s memory.
That prompted Rishi Sunak to quit as chancellor of the exchequer – the finance minister – and Sajid Javid to resign as health secretary, while others left their junior ministerial or envoy roles.
“It is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too,” Mr Javid said in his resignation letter.
A snap YouGov poll found 69 per cent of Britons thought Mr Johnson should step down as prime minister but for the time being the remainder of his top ministerial team offered their backing.
A month ago, Mr Johnson survived a confidence vote of Conservative lawmakers, and party rules mean he cannot face another such challenge for a year.
However, some lawmakers are seeking to change those rules.
“After all the sleaze, the scandals and the failure, it’s clear that this government is now collapsing,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said.