The UK government is in full-blown crisis mode after four of Boris Johnson's senior ministers resigned – along with many junior ministers – saying they could no longer support his leadership.
Just two-and-a-half years after Johnson won a convincing majority in the 2019 election, his government seems on the brink of collapse following numerous MP resignations as a result of a sexual misconduct scandal following a string of other scandals – and the number is set to rise.
On Wednesday, during a heated Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), leader of the opposition Keir Starmer called Johnson’s performance, “a pathetic spectacle” and “the dying acts of his political career,” describing the cabinet as a “Z-list cast of nodding dogs.”
At PMQs, Johnson pledged to “keep going” as his government collapses around him, but the problems he faces are not going away any time soon.
The chaos began after deputy chief whip Chris Pincher stepped down when accusations emerged that he had groped two men at a private members club. Pincher denies the allegations.
After Pincher resigned, British politics website Politico published claims that this wasn’t the first time Pincher had been accused of sexual misconduct. Initially, the party line was that Johnson had not been aware of any other “official allegations” from 2019 about Pincher before appointing him in a government role. This later changed, when Number 10 Downing Street said the Prime Minister “knew of allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
Government ministers took to the airways to defend the Prime Minister. A letter tweeted by Simon McDonald, the former permanent secretary to the Foreign Office, claimed that, despite Number 10’s change of position, their
statement was still untrue. In the letter, he claimed that Johnson had been aware of official, upheld accusations and that Number 10 had consistently not told the truth.
This revelation sparked a number of departures on Tuesday night, including health minister Sajid Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. It is the second time Javid has resigned from Johnson’s cabinet.
Children and families minister Will Quince was next to go, followed shortly by schools minister Robin Walker.
Former Minister of State for Equalities Kemi Badenoch, alongside five other MPs, also tendered their resignation as junior ministers.
Over 27 MPs have now resigned.
Nadhim Zahawi has been moved from education secretary to chancellor, in place of Sunak, while Steve Barclay, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and minister for the Cabinet Office, has been promoted to health secretary.
Starmer used the resignations to initiate a searing attack on Johnson during Wednesday’s PMQs: “He knew the accused minister had previously committed predatory behaviour, but he promoted him to a position of power anyway.”
Johnson said that the minister has “lost his status” in response to the allegations, which was “totally right”.
Starmer went on to say: “Anyone with anything about them would be long gone from his front bench,” said Starmer. “In the middle of a crisis, doesn't the country deserve better than a Z-list cast of nodding dogs?”
During the bruising session, Gary Sambrook, an MP for Johnson’s Conservative party, claimed Johnson had berated MPs for failing to stop Pincher, and urged him to resign.
It’s hardly the first scandal to have rocked the government. Johnson saw a swathe of resignations after it emerged he had broken coronavirus laws as the country went into lockdown in 2020. The 'Partygate' saga, which had threatened to torpedo the government, saw both Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson, and Sunak fined by the Metropolitan Police.
Despite a scandal-ridden tenure, Johnson remains the UK’s Prime Minister… for now.