(London) Worn out by scandals, weakened by a series of unprecedented defections in his government, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday, while specifying that he would remain in Downing Street until his successor was appointed. A few hours later, the first candidates for his succession announced their intentions.
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.
“It is clearly the will of the Conservative Party that there is a new leader and therefore a new Prime Minister”, he declared in a short speech in front of Downing Street, while considering “crazy” that his party has wanted to get rid of him.
“I have appointed a new government which will be in office, just like me, until the new leader is in place”, he added, without a word for the open crisis caused by the sixty resignations in his government since Tuesday, after yet another scandal.
The idea of this interim which could last until October was immediately denounced by the opposition and certain conservative heavyweights.
An expected resignation
“We don’t need a change at the head of the Tories. We need a real change of government,” Opposition Leader Keir Starmer argued shortly before.
A majority of Britons (56%) also want the interim to be done by someone else, according to a YouGov poll. 77% believe Boris Johnson was right to resign.
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.
” It was time ! »
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.
Conservative British MP Tom Tugendhat announced on Thursday evening that he was entering the race to succeed Boris Johnson, thus opening the ball of candidates since the Prime Minister’s announcement.
In a column published in the Daily TelegraphMr. Tugendhat, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, confirmed his intention already expressed before, explaining that he wanted to bring together a “broad coalition” for a “new start”.
Brexit supporter Steve Baker, from the Conservative Party’s right wing, meanwhile said he was “seriously” considering running.
According to their respective entourages, former Health Minister Sajid Javid, who announced his resignation from the government with a bang on Tuesday, and Transport Minister Grant Shapps are also both seriously considering entering the race.
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 even in his own ranks. The police concluded that he had broken the law, but he refused to resign.
Last month, he survived a vote of no confidence, with 40% of Conservative MPs refusing to trust him.
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.
Many reactions abroad
The United States said it would continue its “close cooperation” with Britain, including joint support for Ukraine against Russian aggression.
“The United Kingdom and the United States are the closest friends and allies, and the special relationship between our people remains strong and enduring,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“I look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the UK government,” he added, including “maintaining a strong and united approach to support the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against the brutal war in Putin against his democracy, and holding Russia accountable for its actions.”
After years of strained relations with Britain, the EU meanwhile sees hope for an improvement following the resignation of Brexit champion Boris Johnson, but mistrust persists.
The European Commission has publicly dodged comments about the political upheaval in the UK, but other figures in Brussels’ orbit have let loose. “Boris Johnson’s departure opens a new page in relations with Britain,” tweeted Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator. “May she be more constructive, more respectful of the commitments made, particularly with regard to peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and more friendly with EU partners. Because there is so much more to do together. »
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky phoned Boris Johnson to express his “sadness”, Kyiv said. “We all welcome this news with sadness. Not only me, but also the whole Ukrainian society who sympathize very much with you,” the presidency said, quoting Mr Zelensky, and reiterating how grateful Ukrainians have been for the support of the British prime minister since the Russian invasion. Mr Johnson was considered one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine in the West.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said Boris Johnson’s decision to step down was “an opportunity” to ease relations.
Mr Martin added that ties between Dublin and London had been “strained and questioned of late”, not least because of differences over special post-Brexit trade deals in Northern Ireland. “We now have an opportunity to return to the true spirit of partnership and mutual respect that is necessary to underpin the gains of the Good Friday Agreement,” Martin said in a statement.
The 1998 peace accords ended decades of bloodshed over British rule in Northern Ireland, but were strained by Brexit.
The Kremlin has said it hopes “more professionals” will come to power in Britain. “We would like to hope that one day in Britain more professional people who can make decisions through dialogue will come to power,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “But at the moment there is little hope for that. »
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.
According to Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the longevity of the Conservative Party is 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.
With Agence France-Presse