UPDATE 3-UK Conservatives say 'toxic' Boris Johnson should be replaced now

·3 min read

* Johnson resigns but resists stepping down immediately

* PM wants to remain in power until a successor is found

* Former PM Major said Johnson must be removed quickly

* Conservative lawmakers call for him to go now (Adds comments from former PM)

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister John Major said Boris Johnson should be replaced immediately rather than be allowed to remain as a caretaker leader because his cabinet may struggle to "restrain him", amid wider calls for him to be removed now.

Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister on Thursday after he was deserted by cabinet ministers and many Conservative Party lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

Speaking outside his Downing Street office, Johnson announced his "painful" resignation but defied pressure to step down immediately, insisting he planned to stay on as prime minister while his party picks his successor.

Major released a letter saying it was "unwise, and may be unsustainable" for Johnson to remain in power for several months.

That call was echoed by several Conservative members of parliament, who said Johnson's behaviour this week when he refused to resign, means he should be forced out before the leadership contest, a process that could take months.

"The proposal for the prime minister to remain in office - for up to three months - having lost the support of his cabinet, his government and his parliamentary party is unwise, and may be unsustainable," Major said in a letter.

"Some will argue that his new cabinet will restrain him. I merely note that his previous cabinet did not - or could not - do so."

The prime minister's decision to quit marks the end of a rollercoaster political career in which he led Britain out of the European Union and took his Conservative Party to the largest election victory in three decades.

It follows three years of scandals, including anger over parties held at his Downing Street office during coronavirus lockdowns, accusations of breaking international law over his threat to override parts of the treaty governing Britain's exit from the European Union and, most recently, his handling of sexual harassment allegations against a lawmaker.

'GO MEANS GO'

Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, said that British prime ministers ousted outside of general elections are normally allowed to remain in power until a successor is chosen.

But Bale said there was a lack of trust between Johnson and his members of parliament (MPs) after he refused to step down this week even after several cabinet ministers told him to quit.

"A lot of MPs simply don’t want to risk him saying and doing anything over the summer that will tarnish the party’s reputation further," Bale said.

Simon Hoare, a Conservative member of parliament, said Johnson's behaviour meant he had forfeited the right to remain as a caretaker leader.

"Ministers resigned because of the PM. The party lost confidence because of the PM. It is beyond credulity that Mr Johnson can stay in office ... He has to go and go means go."

Another Conservative lawmaker said: "We need to be rid of Boris as soon as possible. He’s too toxic."

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, would be a suitable temporary replacement, Major and several Conservative lawmakers said.

A third Conservative lawmaker said if Johnson tried to stay on as caretaker premier, he would ask the executive of the 1922 Committee, an influential group of Conservative lawmakers, to tell the prime minister to go now.

Chris Bryant, a member of parliament for the opposition Labour Party, said Britain needed an established government to deal with the twin challenges of a cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Bryant said, for example, that a caretaker government would be unable to deploy troops. "A caretaker government can't do that. It simply can't, the rules forbid them from doing that. So can we please, please have a proper government soon." (Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and William James, editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

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