Boris Johnson is out.
After a dizzying few days of fresh scandals and mass cabinet resignations, the British prime minister announced his resignation on Thursday, marking the close of his leadership of the Conservative Party nearly three years after he took on the job.
As prime minister, he officially took the United Kingdom out of the European Union after years of a divisive Brexit debate, and he led the Conservatives to a historic general election victory in 2019. But Johnson could not overcome the latest revolt from his Conservative Party. The scale of the discontent over a slew of scandals alongside an inflation crisis and poor election results proved insurmountable for Johnson.
Johnson, in his resignation speech, indicated he will stay on as prime minister until a successor is chosen, a process that will likely conclude sometime in the late summer or early autumn. But some Conservatives see Johnson as too much of a political liability to stick around, even for a few weeks, and want him gone, immediately.
“The reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue … was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019,” Johnson said Thursday, outside of No. 10 Downing Street. In his brief remarks, Johnson cited that historic 2019 election victory; delivering on Brexit; the UK’s navigation of the pandemic, including its vaccine rollout; and the UK’s support for Ukraine against Russia among the achievements of his tenure. He promised continued support for Ukraine under his replacement.
Johnson lamented not being able to see through “so many ideas and projects myself,” but he put the blame on party politics, not his own role in creating the fallout that left him politically weakened. “The herd instinct is powerful; when it moves, it moves,” Johnson said. “No one is remotely indispensable.”
“I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world,” Johnson added. “But them’s the breaks.”
Johnson’s tenure as prime minister began unraveling over the past few months, but his ouster happened very rapidly. For over half a year, Johnson had faced “Partygate” allegations, which alleged parties had been hosted at his Downing Street offices during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis when England was under very strict lockdown rules. After some electoral setbacks, Johnson’s party staged a no-confidence vote against the prime minister. Johnson survived, but not convincingly so.
Then, in recent days, the government’s chief deputy whip, Chris Pincher, was accused of groping two men, which resurfaced other allegations against him. Johnson at first denied knowing about those past allegations when he promoted Pincher, until it came out that he did, in fact, know about Pincher’s past. Those revelations prompted the resignations of two senior Cabinet officials, which then set off resignations en masse from Johnson’s government. Johnson, abandoned by his party and urged by the remaining members of his government to step aside, finally conceded defeat.
Johnson’s departure, at least for now, means that the next battle among the Conservatives will be for leader of the party. That contest will play out over the coming weeks, potentially with quite a few prospective candidates throwing in their names. (Earlier general elections — which could change the balance of power in Parliament — can’t be ruled out, but they’re not happening right now.) Who emerges from this contest will say a lot about the future of the Conservative Party, and just how much influence Johnson may have had in shaping it.