Early Thursday morning, Boris Johnson announced that he would resign as Conservative Party leader, which will result in a new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The departure will end his three-year term as Britain’s leader.
Johnson’s resignation follows an onslaught of opposition from his own party. “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson noted outside of Downing Street. “The herd instinct is powerful,” he continued. “And when the herd moves, it moves. And, my friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable.”
Conservative party ministers have been urging him to resign ensuing a sexual misconduct scandal involving his former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. On June 30, Pincher resigned after being accused of groping two men at a private club, which prompted questions about why Johnson promoted him to a senior job enforcing party discipline.
Johnson’s office’s first stance contended that he was not aware of the accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. This stance was shortly discredited by Sir Simon McDonald, a cross-bench peer, who wrote to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone confirming that “Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation.”
On Tuesday, two high-profile Cabinet ministers, finance minister Rishi Sunak and health minister Sajid Javid resigned and published letters online condemning the Prime Minister’s actions regarding the scandal. More than 30 others followed their resignations.
However, some argue that Johnson’s handling of the Pincher affair was merely the last straw. In recent months, the Prime Minister narrowly survived a vote of no confidence by his party and was fined by police for violating COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic by hosting parties at Downing Street. His power has also weakened amid a cost-of-living crisis exacerbated by Brexit, which Johnson championed.
For the time being, Johnson is still serving as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In Britain, the position must always be filled, and the incumbent is usually expected to remain in their post until the end of the party leadership election. Prime Ministers are not directly elected by the public but are usually the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament (proven through a vote of confidence). Britain’s Conservative Party, which holds the majority of seats in parliament, will hold an internal selection for the new Prime Minister.
Johnson has said that the process to select his successor will begin immediately and a timetable for the change in leadership will be announced next week. However, choosing a new leader in this way typically takes several months, and critics argue that Johnson remaining Prime Minister for that period of time would do more damage to the country.
The rules for choosing new party leaders are made by a committee called the 1922 Committee and are scheduled to meet on July 11 to discuss changing the rules to expedite the process of Johnson’s resignation. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has called for a general election.
There are no outright front-runners to replace Johnson, though Rishi Sunak, the now-former finance minister, and Dominic Raab, Johnson’s Deputy Prime Minister, are predicted as potential favorites.