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Boris Johnson agrees to resign, will remain PM for now

Click to play video: '‘Them’s the breaks’: Boris Johnson resigns as British prime minister, will serve until November' ‘Them’s the breaks’: Boris Johnson resigns as British prime minister, will serve until November
WATCH: 'Them's the breaks': Boris Johnson resigns as British prime minister, will serve until November – Jul 7, 2022

Boris Johnson has resigned as Britain’s prime minister, bringing an end to one of the rockiest tenures for a world leader in modern times after a series of scandals rocked his government’s confidence in him.

Bowing to growing pressure as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street office Thursday to confirm he would resign.

“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson said.

However, he said he will remain as British prime minister while a leadership contest is held to choose his successor. He will remain an MP after he steps down, one of his close aides confirmed on Twitter.

“The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place,” Johnson said.

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Read more: After U.K.’s Boris Johnson steps down, who could become the next PM?

Among the possible candidates to succeed him include former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

The leader of the opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, welcomed the news of Johnson’s resignation, but said it should have happened “long ago”.

“He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale,” Starmer said.

Truss, a Conservative MP, also said Johnson was right to step down as prime minister.

“The PM has made the right decision,” she said. “We need calmness and unity now and to keep governing while a new leader is found.”

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Fall from grace

Johnson’s exit marks a remarkable fall from grace for the charismatic Conservative leader, who just two-and-a-half years ago was celebrating an overwhelming election victory and the full backing of his party.

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He had vowed to move forward as prime minister after narrowly surviving a confidence vote last month that was triggered by shifting stories about COVID-19 lockdown-breaking parties in government offices — some of which he attended.

Read more: British PM Boris Johnson fighting to stay in power after top ministers resign

But that stance proved untenable after two of his most senior cabinet ministers quit Tuesday over similarly shifting explanations about his handling of a sexual misconduct scandal that dogged a recent government appointee.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned within minutes of each other, costing Johnson the support of the men responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and surging COVID-19 infections.

Those two were then joined by solicitor general Alex Chalk, who also joined four parliamentary private secretaries, the Conservative Party’s vice-chair and two trade envoys in abandoning Johnson and resigning. Several more ministers and government officials followed that first group out the door Wednesday, further endangering the prime minister.

In their resignation letters, Sunak and Javid both said Johnson’s credibility had been shattered by the growing list of scandals, with Chalk adding that public confidence in the government under its current leadership had “irretrievably broken down.”

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Series of scandals

Johnson had proven multiple times to be adept at fighting off criticism and political scandal, dating back to his past roles in Parliament and as the mayor of London.

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He swept into power as Conservative leader in 2019 after the resignation of Theresa May, and proved naysayers wrong that December when his party won the largest majority government since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. He then went on to finalize the country’s exit from the European Union, which had dogged May’s government as well as her predecessor, David Cameron.

But experts and even some Conservative MPs had suggested this week that the wave of cabinet resignations would be too much to bear.

The latest scandal began last Thursday, when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid complaints that he 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.

Read more: British PM Boris Johnson expected to step down amid political fallout

Pincher denies the allegations.

Johnson’s office initially said he wasn’t aware of the previous accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

But in a highly unusual move, Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the U.K. Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020, went public with claims that the prime minister’s office wasn’t telling the truth.

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McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behaviour in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.

“Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” McDonald wrote.

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Hours after McDonald’s comments were published, Johnson’s office changed its story again, saying the prime minister had forgotten that Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.

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Then minutes before Javid and Sunak announced their resignations, Johnson told reporters that Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.

Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said, “I think it was a mistake, and I apologize for it. In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do.”

Read more: Boris Johnson faces doubts on leadership after surviving no-confidence vote

The shifting explanation from Johnson fuelled discontent within the cabinet after ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime minister’s denials, only to have the explanation shift the next day.

Johnson’s authority had already been shaken by last month’s confidence vote. Although he survived, 41 per cent of Conservatives voted to remove him from office. But until Tuesday his cabinet had largely stayed put and loyal.

Concerns about Johnson’s leadership had been fuelled by his responses to months of allegations about lockdown-breaking parties in government offices that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one levied against Johnson.

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Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were badly beaten in two special elections to fill vacant seats in Parliament, adding to the discontent within Johnson’s party and suggesting the ongoing accusations were resonating with the public.

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Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions were swirling that Johnson would soon face another no-confidence vote.

The existing rules require 12 months between such votes, but several Conservative lawmakers had suggested they supported changing the rules in an upcoming vote on the issue.

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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