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Boris Johnson defends measures as more Conservative allies step down

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggled for his political life on Wednesday as a growing number of ministers and advisers left his government and a former top cabinet minister delivered a scathing criticism of Johnson’s leadership.

Johnson tried to move away from the dramatic events on Tuesday, which saw two of his senior cabinet ministers – Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Minister Sajid Javid – resign like a bombshell, both of whom have their own power bases in the party and are thought to be future contenders for leadership.

Johnson’s efforts to quickly fill the top positions failed to stem the tide of further – albeit more recent – resignations. Within 24 hours, at least 26 Conservative politicians resigned from office in protest at Johnson’s leadership.

The resignations, which followed a series of scandals, have raised numerous questions: How long can Johnson survive? Is this the endgame for Johnson? Is there a way to oust him?

At a fiery session of the Prime Minister’s Weekly Questions, Johnson fired those calling for his resignation.

Asked from a Conservative, if there were any circumstances in which he should resign, Johnson said he would resign if the government could not go ahead. “Honestly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances is to move on when you’ve been given a colossal mandate, and I will do that.”

As a sign of spirit during the session, a group of opposition Labor MPs once waved to Johnson and shouted “bye”.

Javid, the former health secretary whose resignation led the exodus, slammed the prime minister and told parliament that “the balancing act between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months”. He said he was told by senior figures late last year that there had been no Downing Street parties during the pandemic lockdown. A police investigation into Partygate ended with 126 fines, including one for Johnson.

UK ‘Partygate’ probe ends with 126 fines, no further subpoenas for Boris Johnson

Javid added that “again this week we have reason to question the truth and integrity of what we’ve all been told,” he said, referring to a separate Chris Pincher scandal that has recently followed allegations when Deputy Chief Whip had resigned drunk attacked two men. Downing Street initially said Johnson was not aware of any previous allegations of wrongdoing when the Prime Minister gave Pincher a key government post, but then backtracked to acknowledge that Johnson was aware of an inquiry that confirmed similar complaints in 2019.

The resignation of senior British ministers and the plight of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government dominated British newspaper headlines on July 6. (Video: Reuters)

“The problem starts at the top,” Javid said.

As Javid spoke, another minister resigned.

The latest Boris Johnson scandal has led to the resignation of top ministers

The majority of the British public thinks Johnson should throw in the towel. A YouGov survey The statement released on Tuesday found that 69 percent of Brits said Johnson should step down – including a majority of Conservative voters (54 percent).

Just 18 percent of the British public say Johnson should stay.

Johnson has made it clear that if he has his way he will stay where he is. And under current Conservative Party rules, there is no formal way for Johnson’s critics to get rid of him quickly. Having survived – by a narrow margin – a no-confidence vote by his party last month, Johnson has been officially isolated from further challenges by the party for a year.

Rob Ford, a policy expert at the University of Manchester, drew parallels to 2016, when mass resignations from the shadow cabinet of the opposition Labor Party followed the Brexit vote in order to put pressure on Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn. While some leaders may have read the space and decided to end it, Ford said Corbyn did not and remained the leader through Spring 2020.

“Similarly, at Johnson there is widespread opposition to his leadership. You have a leader who will not bow to informal pressure to leave and the only formal mechanism you have is unavailable. So you’re in a state of limbo,” Ford said.

Boris Johnson survives but is weakened by the no-confidence vote

There has been much talk in recent days about how the party rules could be changed. And in the coming days, conservative lawmakers will elect new members to the powerful 1922 committee that makes the rules. Some of those running for roles have suggested they would support another no-confidence vote.

Meanwhile, the number of resignations, including from former loyalists, continued to rise. Analysts say Johnson is lucky in that the reasons given for the lost faith appear to vary — his critics aren’t rallying around a single issue, as were those who helped get rid of Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, when she let them down.

Ford said that while Johnson could be lagging until another confidence vote, the chances of him leading the Conservative Party to the next general election, scheduled for 2025, were slim.

“At least another vote of confidence will be possible in 11 months. What exactly will change by then to regain faith in Johnson?” asked Ford. “At this point, I think it takes something close to a biblical miracle. Nothing can be ruled out from the happiest politician in British politics, but it would take something extraordinary.”