Boris Johnson resigns as Prime Minister - will integrity now prevail?
By RAVI MAINI
Boris Johnson gave his resignation speech shortly after midday on 7th July.
So that’s it. It’s all over. After just under three years (2 years and 348 days to be exact) in the top job, Boris Johnson is to move out of Number 10 by this autumn. It is reported that he will carry on as a ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister until the Conservative party conference in September, by which time a new leader would have been elected in a forthcoming leadership contest.
It is hardly a surprise that Johnson’s resignation was unavoidable, even for him. The resignation at lightning speed of government ministers has meant that whole departments are left without leadership, and some parliamentary business being cancelled due to there being no relevant ministers to attend it. One only needs to look at the appearance of a ‘government resignations’ counter on Sky News, which had risen to an unprecedented 59 at the time of writing, to see that Johnson’s government was in freefall. Even before his resignation, it had long passed the point of no return. And yet the speed of this downfall seems to have hardly sunk in for the PM himself, who was said last night to be ‘buoyant and up for a fight’ as he was visited by a cabinet delegation, including the new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, urging him to step down. In an unexpected late-night move, the PM also fired Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove from his top team.
This domino effect of ministerial resignations appears to have been prompted by Downing Street’s handling of accusations of sexual assault perpetrated by Chris Pincher, the Conservatives’ former deputy chief whip. Indeed, Johnson initially stressed that he had not been made aware of any allegations against Pincher when he appointed him to a senior whip’s role, even sending ministers including Will Quince, who has since resigned, onto the airwaves to defend this stance. As anyone following Partygate might have figured out by now, this assertion by Number 10 was not the truth. Johnson had in fact been explicitly told about Pincher’s inappropriate behaviour, but decided to appoint him as a minister anyway. According to former adviser Dominic Cummings, Johnson even jokingly remarked: ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’. The PM’s trivialisation of Pincher’s conduct, and his readiness to chop and change between truth and lie on the matter, have pushed his premiership to breaking point.
Opposition parties have long been calling for Johnson’s resignation, and the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer told the media this morning that should Johnson continue as a ‘caretaker’ PM until the autumn, Labour will table a vote of no-confidence in the Commons. Similarly, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, has raised concerns about the Prime Minister’s ability to continue in office, even if temporarily, for months to come, saying that: “the man’s never taken care of anything in his life.” Whilst most in the Labour party are likely to be pleased with Johnson’s resignation, there is perhaps some disappointment at the reduced likelihood of an imminent general election which, quite evidently, would be particularly disastrous for the Conservatives and beneficial for Labour.
Perhaps even more crucially, what does this mean for the Conservative party going forwards? There are many questions to be asked as to why so many government ministers stayed on for so long if unhappy with Johnson’s leadership, with so many expressing that to be the case. What’s more, the unexpected firing of Michael Gove last night gave the impression of the PM, to some, as unhinged and hellbent on removing opposition. If Gove is the ‘snake’ that a Number 10 source insisted he has been, then what does that make Boris Johnson? And yet as recently as last night it was widely reported that Johnson was adamant to stay in office himself. It appears as if he is revelling in the chaos and attention surrounding him. It is worth pointing out that, in his resignation speech this afternoon, there were no apologies and no meaningful acceptance of personal failings in responsibility and leadership that led to this point. As far as the PM is concerned, it was the ‘herd instinct’ in Westminster that thwarted his efforts to stay on as PM; he himself previously told the media he was already thinking “about a third term [as PM]”.
Johnson saw his premiership as one big game; one in which lying, law-breaking and lewd misconduct do not equal a failure of leadership, but further fuel a warped desire to debase the standards of accountability in public life, all for the advancement of his own political career. These being the standards that, if Johnson had ever really cared, ought to have led him sacking the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, for bullying that clearly violated the ministerial code, as well as other former ministers like Matt Hancock. Johnson has stoked the fires of mistruth and sleaze – in which he himself personally partook – more than ever before, and the political standing of the Conservatives as a whole is now languishing in their flames. The Tories have lost 4 MPs in by-elections since 2019. Johnson’s desperate attempts to bat away all wrongdoing – like flatly denying lockdown parties – may have given him that little bit longer in power, but they have stained the Conservatives’ reputation as refusing to act in the face of a muddled, as Labour says, ‘defence of the indefensible’.
Following Johnson’s departure, his replacement will be the fourth British Prime Minister in just six years. The high turnover of PMs in recent years is certainly not a coincidence – UK politics is fragmented and broken, stuck in limbo in a post-Brexit wilderness. It is perhaps therefore unnerving to remind ourselves that the next PM will, for now at least, be chosen by members and MPs of the Conservative party alone, and not by the electorate.
And yet one thing is clear: the next PM – whether that be Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt, or someone else – will have to commit themselves to high moral standards and integrity. After all, Johnson’s persistent failure to do so is ultimately what sounded the death knell for his leadership. His biggest misjudgment was taking integrity, common decency and basic standards to be secondary to, in his words, ‘getting on with the job’. His forced resignation today serves as a striking reminder that the latter is frankly impossible without the former.
Image: Flickr / Number 10