Boris Johnson finally resigned on Thursday to resign as leader of the Conservative Party after facing an unprecedented wave of resignations. He intends to remain Prime Minister until his successor is appointed, a situation which is far from achieving consensus within the formation.
Why did he finally agree to leave?
The shock resignation on Tuesday of two influential ministers questioning the integrity of Boris Johnson was followed on Wednesday by the announcement of the departure of dozens of members of the government, seeming to place the politician with his back to the wall. However, he had insisted in the evening in front of members of the cabinet seeking to convince him to leave of the need to continue his work. A few more resignations were added to the list early Thursday morning before the politician announced, in a speech outside 10 Downing Street, that he was giving up his party leadership and would stay on as prime minister until until the Conservative Party appoints his successor. “He finally accepted that he had no more solutions to get out of it,” says Christopher Stafford, a British political scientist, in an interview. Although he could hang on, Boris Johnson was almost certain, the researcher notes, to soon suffer a vote of no confidence promising to turn out “very badly” for him after surviving a first such vote in June.
How did Boris Johnson explain his decision?
The Prime Minister has been accused on several occasions of having lied about scandals that shook his government, including the “partygate” which concerned the holding of several drunken evenings in his official residence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic . He was again caught out last week over what he knew about the past of an ally who was appointed in February as the party’s deputy chief whip despite significant misconduct. He did not make any excuses for his excesses in his speech on Thursday, instead blaming elected Conservatives for being carried away by a “pack effect” preventing them from recognizing the importance of his government’s achievements. The absence of my culpa comes as no surprise to Steven Fielding, a political scientist from the University of Nottingham. “He is convinced that he has nothing to reproach himself for and thinks that the people who blame him are crazy,” notes the researcher.
Can he temporarily remain as Prime Minister despite the importance of the opposition against him in the Conservative ranks?
Several members of the party said on Thursday they disagreed with the possibility of Boris Johnson remaining prime minister until his successor in the formation is chosen and replaces him at the head of the government, a process which could take several months . Former Tory Prime Minister John Major has said it is unthinkable for the politician to stay in power as he has lost the confidence of the government and elected officials and is urging him to make way for Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab . The Prime Minister assured his side that he would not seek to put in place new policies or to impose “major changes of direction” on the government while waiting for his successor to be appointed. According to Mr Stafford, only a vote of confidence lost in the House of Commons could force Boris Johnson to leave before then, but it would bring down the Conservative government and put the party in a perilous position when it currently has an “ironclad” majority ensuring its continued power. It seems unlikely that many elected Conservatives will vote in this direction if the Labor opposition asks as it promises a vote of this nature, notes the researcher, who rather expects that the Conservative opponents of the Prime Minister will seek to shorten the process of appointing his successor to speed up his departure.
Should we expect a tight succession race?
Mr Fielding notes that Boris Johnson has long been considered entrenched as leader of the Conservative Party because he was seen as the only politician charismatic enough to bring victory to the party at the polls. Now that his exit is confirmed, several elected officials may scramble to replace him. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Penny Mordaunt are among the favorites according to a BBC analysis. Normally, the candidates face each other in a series of elimination votes held among the elected Conservatives. The two remaining at the end then campaign before a final vote by the full party membership. The process took two months after the announcement of the departure in 2019 of former Prime Minister Theresa May, who had also served as interim, but could be shortened in this case, according to Mr. Stafford. “A lot of elected officials want Johnson out for good before they can do even more damage to the party,” he notes.
What assessment can we make of Boris Johnson’s mandate?
Boris Johnson, Steven Fielding notes, is exceptionally skilled in campaigning, helping him lead the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in the 2019 parliamentary election, but he has little to show for after three years in office. Brexit has been formalized, but some problems remain and its economic impact looks very problematic. His handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite some vaccination successes, has resulted in a high death toll, Fielding adds, noting that repeated scandals have plagued the whole of the world. government action. Frédéric Mérand thinks that the politician must be given credit for having formalized Brexit even if some issues remain unresolved. He has also been constructive, he says, in terms of foreign policy, in particular by his support for Ukraine in the face of Russia. “Internally, it’s a failure all along the line since he has done practically nothing of what he had promised,” notes the researcher, who also insists on the importance of the scandals that occurred under his leadership. . “We are more likely to remember the character than his achievements,” notes Mr. Mérand.
Une démission attendue
L’ex-premier ministre John Major (1990-1997) a jugé « imprudent et peut-être intenable » que Boris Johnson reste « plus longtemps que nécessaire » à Downing Street.
« Nous n’avons pas besoin d’un changement à la tête des Tories. Nous avons besoin d’un vrai changement de gouvernement », avait peu avant fait valoir le chef de l’opposition Keir Starmer.
Une majorité des Britanniques (56 %) veulent aussi que l’intérim soit assuré par quelqu’un d’autre, selon un sondage YouGov. 77 % pensent que Boris Johnson a eu raison de démissionner.
Personne ne peut « regarder Boris Johnson et conclure qu’il est capable de se comporter en premier ministre intérimaire », a estimé la cheffe des indépendantistes écossais Nicola Sturgeon. Il « va inévitablement causer encore plus de chaos ».
Il a en tout cas déclaré lors d’un Conseil des ministres jeudi après-midi qu’il laisserait les « décisions budgétaires majeures » à son successeur, selon Downing Street.
En annonçant sa démission, M. Johnson s’est dit « immensément fier » de son bilan, en évoquant notamment le Brexit, la campagne de vaccination anti-COVID-19 et son soutien à l’Ukraine.
« Ces derniers jours, j’ai essayé de convaincre mes collègues qu’il serait dingue de changer de gouvernement alors que nous réalisons autant de choses […] I regret not having succeeded,” he added.
After 2 years and 349 tumultuous days in power, marked by the Brexit of which he was the hero, the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, record inflation and a rise in social conflict, Boris Johnson, 58, was pushed towards the exit by his own camp, tired of the repeated scandals and his lies.
Thursday, he made several appointments to replace resigning ministers and secretaries of state. He also phoned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Ukrainian presidency thanked him for his support “in the most difficult times”.
Mr. Johnson’s departure is “an opportunity to return to the true spirit of partnership and mutual respect that we need,” said Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, against a backdrop of strained relations between Dublin and London. about Northern Ireland.
” It was time ! »
Of once stainless popularity, Boris Johnson had sunk into opinion polls after a series of scandals, including “partygate”, these illegal parties organized in Downing Street despite the anti-COVID-19 confinements.
Boris Johnson had varied in his explanations, causing frustration and then anger among elected Conservatives. The police concluded that he had broken the law, but he refused to resign.
Last month, he had escaped a vote of no confidence, however 40% of Conservative MPs refused to give him their confidence.
On Wednesday evening, several ministers went to Downing Street to try, in vain, to convince Boris Johnson that, having lost the confidence of the Conservative Party, he should resign for his good and that of the country.
Joe Biden wants to continue the cooperation
US President Joe Biden said Thursday that his country would continue its “close cooperation” with the United Kingdom, in particular on Ukraine, in a press release issued after the resignation of Boris Johnson, which however made no mention of the latter.
“The United Kingdom and the United States are closest friends and allies, and the special relationship between our peoples remains strong and enduring,” Biden said.
“I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the UK government, as well as with our allies and partners around the world, on a range of high-priority issues,” he added.
“This includes maintaining a strong and united approach to support the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Putin’s brutal war on their democracy, and holding Russia accountable for its actions,” he continued. .
The weekly session of questions in the House ended with a “Bye Boris” repeated by several elected officials.
But the prime minister said he had a “colossal mandate” to accomplish.
The resignation Tuesday evening of Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, and Health Minister Sajid Javid, had sounded the hallali for the Prime Minister, after a new sex scandal involving the deputy “whip” in charge of the discipline of Conservative MPs, whom Mr Johnson had named in February, “forgetting” past similar charges.
Several conservatives are expected to succeed him at the head of the party, with Defense Minister Ben Wallace being the favorite according to a YouGov poll.
According to Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the longevity of the Conservative Party can be explained by the fact that it “gets rid of its leaders when it thinks they are hurting the party”. Which allows him, according to him, to say “look, we have completely changed”.
In the meantime, a wax statue of Boris Johnson has appeared outside an employment agency in Blackpool (north-west England), while a “free” sign has appeared on the replica of the black door of 10 Downing Street in the famous London museum Madame Tussauds.
What you need to know
- Pro-Brexit champion Boris Johnson is elected leader of the Conservative Party on July 23, 2019;
- Ultra-popular, in December 2019 he won a historic majority in the House of Commons for the Conservatives;
- In April 2021, the Prime Minister has been criticized since the start of the pandemic for his management of the crisis;
- The Prime Minister’s party is still gaining ground against Labor in local elections on May 6, 2021;
- The “partygate” scandal, its variable explanations, the police investigation and the administrative inquiry denouncing the lax culture in Downing Street got the better of the confidence of the country;
- Boris Johnson survived a vote of no confidence from members of his Conservative Party on June 6. More than 40% of MPs say they no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister;
- Boris Johnson’s approval rating had fallen from 66% favorable opinions in April 2020 to 23% at the end of June;
- Between 69% and 72% of Britons wanted him to quit, according to two polls this week;
- A final scandal, that of the deputy chief “whip”, accused of touching and whose past Mr. Johnson knew, was the last nail in his coffin;
- On July 7 at 10 a.m. (9 a.m. GMT, 5 a.m. EDT), nearly 60 cabinet members resigned.
- At the end of the evening, AFP indicated that a first candidate was already embarking on the future race for the leadership of the British Conservative Party.
With Agence France-Presse