(LONDON) — After more than 50 resignations from government ministers and aides, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday.
For a moment on Tuesday evening, it seemed as though the prime minister, who had vowed to carry on despite the collapse of his authority and allies deserting him on all sides, would remain in office, sparking a potential constitutional crisis. But outside Downing Street on Thursday, Johnson caved into the pressure.
Soon enough, from within their ranks, the Conservative Party, who still hold a sizeable majority in the U.K. Parliament, will elect a replacement, and that person will become the fourth prime minister in the six years since the Brexit referendum of 2016.
What happens next?
While he did not specifically use the word “resign,” Johnson said, “The process of choosing that new leader should begin now and the timetable will be announced next week.”
In the election process, Conservative MPs nominate their preferred candidate. There is then a run-off with the two most popular candidates, and then Conservative Party members (of the card-carrying, fee-paying kind), vote on who they want to be the next leader.
As the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament (thanks to Johnson’s big election win in 2019) — the winner of their leadership will become the next prime minister.
Reported polls in the U.K. have suggested Ben Wallace, the U.K.’s current secretary of state for defense who has been widely praised for his handling of support for Ukraine, as an early favorite in the race.
But the process is by no means instant. To put the transition into perspective, when Theresa May announced her resignation on the steps of Downing Street on May 24, 2019, Johnson, her successor, did not take office until July 24 — a gap of two months.
Johnson as caretaker?
Boris Johnson has already appointed new ministers to fill some of the gaps left by the dozens of resignations from his government, in a sign that he will attempt to hold true on his promise to stay in charge until a new leader is elected.
However, his resignation speech has not gone down well with embittered members of his party. He has already been accused of arrogance and blaming others for his own faults, instead of facing up to any of the mistakes that led to his departure.
And such is the nature of Johnson’s acrimonious departure, and his defiance in the face of so many calls to resign, that some lawmakers — both Conservative and in the opposition Labour Party — want him gone now.
The Conservative Party may feel that they need a clean slate, and, even on his way out, Johnson may hurt their chances of re-establishing trust with the country. There are indications already that the prime minister sees himself staying in office until the fall. A former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, has already expressed that Johnson should be removed as soon as possible.
The opposition Labour Party have said they will call for a vote in Parliament to eject him from if Johnson’s removal does not happen.
In that event, Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, would take over as prime minister interim until they appoint a new leader.
A divided legacy
Johnson will always be known at home and on the international stage as one of the main architects of Brexit. He was the face of the campaign to leave the EU in 2016, and as prime minister, secured Britain’s exit from the bloc by winning a huge majority in 2019.
His election victories and unconventional style resonated with the public on the campaign trail, exemplified by the two terms he served as Mayor of London before his time in parliament, surprising in a Labour city.
But controversy has always followed him. “Partygate” proved a further stain on his reputation, presiding, to many, over a culture of drinking and lawbreaking while the country was locked down and families were separated from their loved ones, even after he spent time in the ICU with COVID himself. When he was fined by the Metropolitan Police for attending one of those gatherings he became the only sitting British PM in history to have been censured for breaking the law while in office.
Johnson also denied that he had knowledge of a lawmaker’s alleged past misconduct, which he had been told about in 2019, and then promoted him anyway, only for that colleague to repeat his offence.
Johnson’s authority was wounded by “Partygate,” but the latest scandal proved to be the straw the broke the camel’s back.
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