Boris Johnson to resign as Tory leader but hopes to stay as PM until autumn

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Boris Johnson is to resign as Conservative leader but will push to stay on as prime minister until the autumn, prompting a backlash from some Tory MPs who say he has to go now.

Johnson’s decision came after an extraordinary standoff with his cabinet, which ended after Nadhim Zahawi, his new chancellor, told him to quit. By that point, more than 50 ministers had walked out, citing his mishandling of a string of scandals and failure of ethics.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister will make a statement to the country today.”

Related: What happens when Boris Johnson resigns?

Labour leader Keir Starmer has announced that his party will call a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons if Johnson refuses to go sooner.

“He needs to go: he can’t cling on in this way. His own party have now decided that he’s unfit to be prime minister; they can’t now inflict him on the country for the next few months,” he said.

“If they don’t get rid of him, then Labour will step up, in the national interest, and bring a vote of no confidence because we can’t go on with this prime minister clinging on for months and months to come.”

If the government lost such a vote, the Conservatives would have 14 days in which to assemble a majority behind an alternative leader – and if they were unable to do so, a general election would be held.

Johnson’s departure kicks off a competition to appoint a successor, with frontrunners including Zahawi, Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt, Ben Wallace, Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss – who announced she was cutting short a trip to Indonesia and hurrying home on Thursday.

Johnson is understood to have spoken to the Queen to tell her of his plans. However, his push to stay on as prime minister until the autumn while a Conservative leadership contest takes place provoked fury among MPs.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said the party needed “a new leader as soon as practicable”.

“Someone who can rebuild trust, heal the country, and set out a new, sensible and consistent economic approach to help families,” he added.

Others suggested Johnson should quit immediately, calling for a caretaker leader such as Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, or Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor.

Simon Hoare, a backbench MP, wrote on Twitter: “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 even pro tem. New constitutional territory but he has to go and go means go.”

Nick Gibb, a former minister, also said the prime minister must resign his office. “After losing so many ministers, he has lost the trust and authority required to continue,” he said.

George Freeman, who resigned as science minister on Thursday morning, agreed, saying: “We need ministers back at their desks. Now PM has finally done the decent thing he needs to hand in the seals of office, apologise to Her Majesty, allow her to appoint a caretaker under whom ministers can serve, so the Conservative party can choose a new leader properly.”

Two ex-ministers also said it was not possible for Johnson to stay until the autumn. One said: “He needs to be gone by tonight. Raab should take over.” Another said: “He needs to hand in the seals of office today and go, so we can have a caretaker PM.”

In farcical exchanges in the House of Commons, the paymaster general, Michael Ellis, told MPs “the business of government continues”, while urging them to await the prime minister’s words.

“I cannot pre-empt the prime minister’s statement, and the house and the nation will hear more, imminently. In the meantime, the business of government continues, supported by our great civil service,” he said, insisting there was a “rich reserve” of MPs ready to replace the scores of ministers who had resigned.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, told him: “I hate to break it to the minister, but we don’t have a functioning government,” adding: “The chaos of the last three days is more than just petty Tory infighting. These actions have serious consequences for the running of our country.”

She pointed to 11 bill committees due to take place on Thursday to scrutinise legislation, some of which had had to be cancelled because of a lack of frontbenchers to serve on them.

Johnson’s exit follows three years of scandals, including fury over his handling of harassment allegations against Pincher, the deputy chief whip; a police fine over lockdown parties in Downing Street; attempts to change the standards system; and accusations of breaking international law.

The revolt began on Tuesday evening with the resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak as health secretary and chancellor respectively.

Johnson faced the prospect of a second vote of no confidence as soon as next week, with elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee due to be held on Monday and likely to result in a change to the rules.

The final straw for Johnson appeared to be the loss of Zahawi’s public support. On Wednesday night, No 10 had been briefing that the new chancellor was on board with launching a joint economic plan with Johnson next week, with No 10 confirming that Zahawi was still willing to work with him.

But on Thursday morning, Zahawi released a public letter saying he was “heartbroken” that Johnson was not listening to his advice as a friend of more than 30 years that he must resign.

“Prime Minister: this is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative party and most importantly of all the country. You must do the right thing and go now,” he said, but stopped short of resigning himself.

Michelle Donelan, the education secretary appointed this week, also resigned, saying the cabinet needed to force Johnson’s hand.

She followed Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, who resigned on Thursday morning.

Lewis said: “A decent and responsible government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect – it is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld.”

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said it was right that Johnson has gone but accused cabinet ministers of being complicit in his administration.

“It is good news for the country that Boris Johnson has resigned,” he said. “But 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. And all those who have been complicit should be utterly ashamed.”

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