Boris Johnson is resigning. What now? Our panel’s verdict

<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images

Polly Toynbee: Every Johnson disciple is as guilty as him

He’s gone. Political obituaries for this scoundrel can wait. Here’s where the Conservative party has landed us. Hours from sitting round his cabinet table, his ministers suddenly find him too unfit, too “reckless” even to stay on as a statutory caretaker. Expect no contrition from those now speaking in alien tongues from some unused phrasebook: one by one they find their “integrity”, “dignity”, “decency”, speaking of “the good of the country” and other pious bunk. Who will believe miraculous Damascene conversions from any of these Boris Johnson apostles who disgraced themselves time and again with wide-eyed declarations of their leader’s honesty and truthfulness, while calculating their career self-interest? Every one of them should be ruled unfit to be prime minister.

Let Suella Braverman stand as the perfect symbol for them all, the most craven of his disciples – an attorney general willing to opine that he never broke the law, ever ready to affirm his probity, now first to declare she stands ready to serve. Good grief, she wants to be prime minister, promising a “real Brexit”, free from the Strasbourg human rights court; a champion of smaller government and lower taxes. Well, why not her, as well as any of the cabinet that so staunchly defended what Keir Starmer today damns as “lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale”? They are all guilty men and women.

  • Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

Bob Neill: He can’t continue as a caretaker: he must go today

It is good news that the penny has finally dropped. The way Johnson has tried to cling on to power for the last few days has been deplorably selfish; he has made the Conservative party and, even worse, the country, a laughing stock. Better late than never. In particular, the attempt that he and some of his allies have made to advance a bogus doctrine of a “direct personal mandate” is constitutionally illiterate and dangerous. We are a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential one. To try and undermine that is, ironically, deeply unConservative.

The country at large and Conservative MPs have clearly lost faith in the prime minister and the government is paralysed. I find it difficult to see how he can credibly continue, even as a caretaker. Given the way he has conducted himself over recent days, can he really be trusted to preside over a calm and well-ordered transition? And how many colleagues will feel able to serve honourably under him, even temporarily? The chairman of the 1922 Committee should meet urgently with the National Conservative Convention (the governing body of the Conservative party) to truncate our leadership election process, Boris Johnson should go today and the current deputy prime minister or another senior secretary of state should step up in the interim.

  • Bob Neill is the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst

Moya Lothian-McLean: The stain of Johnsonism will remain for decades

In the end, the political assassination of Boris Johnson went more the way of Rasputin than Julius Caesar, needing more than 50 ministerial resignations and an extra dagger in the back from his brand new chancellor to finish him off. Even now, no one is quite sure that the king of career comebacks will not rise again, given his desire to stay on as prime minister until autumn.

His legacy is likely to be written as one of incompetence and fiddling while Rome burned. But Johnson should be remembered as the man who used his much-cited “14 million mandate” to oversee perhaps the most authoritarian legislative agenda in modern British politics. As a result of his premiership, the very concept of basic human rights in this country is under threat. He has backed the removal of protest and voting rights, the expansion of draconian policing tactics, and the dismantling of the meagre bulwarks that seek to hold public figures and institutions accountable. His leadership has further encouraged political corruption and cronyism.

And while Johnson may be on his way out, the crocodiles he nurtured to enact these policies are still hanging around. Behind the bumbling facade, he has been the architect of a huge state power grab. He may face backbench exile imminently but his political offspring will continue his terrifying work, most likely with more competency. The Johnson era might be over but the stain of Johnsonism will remain for decades to come.

  • Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media

Ed Davey: He has shredded the public’s trust in politics

He broke the law. He lied. He has failed disastrously to tackle the cost of living emergency or the crisis in our NHS. He has shredded the public’s trust in the government and in politics.

But Johnson didn’t act alone. For three years, he has been backed to the hilt by more than 350 co-conspirators on the Conservative benches. They nodded along to every shameful lie. They gladly went on TV to defend the indefensible and excuse the inexcusable. They willingly trooped through the voting lobby in support of every disastrous policy.

They could have prevented the chaos and paralysis that now engulfs every part of the government, if only they had thrown Johnson out of Downing Street months ago – or not backed him as their leader in the first place. They could have supported the motion of no-confidence that I tabled back in January, when it was first revealed that Johnson had broken his own lockdown laws and then lied about it to parliament and the public.

But they sat on their hands and did nothing.

This week’s long-overdue change of heart among some Tory MPs can’t absolve them of years of cowardice and complicity. The public will not forgive them for propping up Boris Johnson for so long. Nor will they forgive the way the Conservative party has spent years taking them for granted. That’s why the Conservatives must be removed from power at the next general election.

The writing has been on the blue wall ever since the Liberal Democrats scored our historic byelection victories in Buckinghamshire and Shropshire last year, but Conservative MPs refused to read it. The anger and frustration that has seen so many lifelong Conservative voters turn to the Liberal Democrats goes well beyond Johnson, and won’t be assuaged simply by replacing him.

  • Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrat leader

Katy Balls: After Johnson’s chaos, MPs want a return to order

After Boris Johnson’s 2019 election victory, his supporters were quick to hail him as the new Tony Blair. Not only did they say he would occupy the centre ground – they predicted that he would also win three consecutive election victories. That wish was clearly still on the mind of the prime minister last week when, after being asked about his future, he told the travelling lobby that he was actively thinking about a third term.

Johnson will now join the ranks of one-term prime ministers. It’s a miserable outcome for a man who won the party’s largest majority since Thatcher.

His supporters argue that he was dealt a tough hand – with Brexit, the pandemic and then cost of living dominating his premiership. However, the real reason Johnson’s premiership has come to such an abrupt end comes down to who he is. His strengths became his weaknesses. The stubbornness, single-mindedness and disregard for convention – used to deliver Brexit – are now seen as his biggest issues.

It’s not just his handling of a string of scandals – from wallpaper-gate to Partygate – but how he operates within the parliamentary system. He has never been a Westminster man. Part of the reason he enjoyed being mayor of London at City Hall was there was little in the way of pandering to his party.

He was never one to follow convention – as evidenced by the increasingly bullish tactics he used in the past 48 hours to try to cling on before having to face the inevitable. Even now, as the prime minister prepares to go, a debate is ongoing in the party as to whether it’s safe for him to remain in Downing Street while a new leader is picked. What’s clear is that after a premiership defined by chaos, MPs want a return to order.

  • Katy Balls is the Spectator’s deputy editor

Bob Kerslake: This administration wrecked the very machinery of government

It would be hard to think of a more difficult and damaging period for the civil service and its relationship with government than the last three years. Many civil servants were seen as part of a “remainer establishment”, intent on blocking the delivery of Brexit. Capable and experienced permanent secretaries, such as Philip Rutnam and Jonathan Slater, either resigned or were sacked. Dominic Cummings spoke of a “hard rain” falling on the service. The home secretary, Priti Patel, was found to have bullied junior staff and breached the ministerial code – but was allowed to continue. At the core of this was a prime minister who not only didn’t respect the civil service’s core values – integrity, honesty, objectivity, impartiality – but seemed to delight in traducing them. Partygate brought home to the public this decline in standards, but also did real damage to the standing of the civil service itself. There will be a huge repair job ahead.

  • Bob Kerslake is a former head of the civil service

Rachel Clarke: The Covid deaths under his watch are a monstrous legacy

We have a quick way of screening a patient’s cognition in hospital. Ten simple questions, including the classic: “Can you name the current prime minister?” Recently, I put this to a forthright 95-year-old who screwed up her face in fierce concentration as she ransacked her brain for the answer. A pause. And then, with magnificent fury: “That bastard with the disgraceful hair.” I gave her the point – and a bonus one for creativity.

Boris Johnson. There are – as of today, but still counting – 197,635 reasons why he makes every doctor and nurse I know seethe with stone-cold fury. We watched patients plead and gasp and fade and die, over and over again. We begged him to lock down when it all began, and then again with all our might, in late 2020, as the country clearly careered into a second deadly wave. But no. Doing the right thing was always a bit dull for our partying prime minister, wasn’t it? Boris, chortling Boris, chose to prioritise the cheap populism of “saving Christmas” above saving actual human lives.

The unholy alliance of a global pandemic with a weak, narcissistic and amoral prime minister – pathologically incapable of making a difficult decision – has caused tens of thousands of Britons to die of Covid who needn’t have. Their deaths should stain his conscience – if it exists – for ever. We ran out of beds, we ran out of ambulances, we ran out of ventilators and we watched and wept as they suffocated. It’s a monstrous legacy. Thank God he is gone.

  • Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and the author of Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

  • Guardian Newsroom: Boris Johnson resigns
    Join our panel including John Harris, Jessica Elgot and John Crace discussing the end of the Boris Johnson era in this livestreamed event. On Tuesday 12 July, 8pm BST | 9pm CEST | 12pm PDT | 3pm EDT. Book tickets here