John Major has urged the Conservative party’s 1922 committee to remove Boris Johnson from office immediately without allowing him to serve temporarily after his resignation, amid growing calls for the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, to be interim PM.
That call was echoed by a slew of ex-ministers as well as senior Tories, who said Johnson’s behaviour over the past 24 hours had made it impossible for him to stay.
Major, the former Conservative prime minister, released a letter saying it was “unwise, and may be unsustainable” for Johnson to stay in office for up to three months.
He said Raab could become acting prime minister if Johnson stepped aside – a move which would have no constitutional precedent. But he said the other option to speed Johnson’s departure would be to eliminate a vote of party members and let only MPs decide who should become the next prime minister.
“In such a circumstance, the prime minister maintains the power of patronage and, of even greater concern, the power to make decisions which will affect the lives of those within all four nations of the United Kingdom and further afield,” he wrote to the committee chair, Sir Graham Brady.
“Some will argue that his new cabinet will restrain him. I merely note that his previous cabinet did not – or could not – do so.”
Major said neither of the options was “ideal” but they were necessary. “The interests of the country must be given priority over all else and, with so many long-term and critical issues before us, an imaginative response – even at the risk of some bruised feelings within the party – is most definitely in the national interest.”
Nick Gibb, a former minister, 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.”
Another ex-minister said: “He needs to be gone by tonight. Raab should take over.”
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…. New constitutional territory but he has to go and go means go.”
One highly senior Tory source who has been with Johnson over the past 48 hours said his behaviour meant it was dangerous for the country for him to stay. “His behaviour in the last 48 hrs and been reckless and erratic. He cannot be trusted to lead the country until the autumn. God knows what he will do.”
One former government advisor said it was “dangerous” for Johnson to stay in post. Another ex-minister called him “a disgrace”.