Boris Johnson was expected to resign as leader of Britain’s Conservative party on Thursday, paving the way for the appointment of a new prime minister after dozens of ministers quit his scandal-hit government.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson “will make a statement to the country today”, and multiple reports said he would be stepping down after three tumultuous years in office.
A Tory leadership race will take place over the summer and the victor will replace Johnson by the party’s annual conference in early October, the BBC and others reported.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed his impending departure.
But Starmer said what was needed was “a proper change of government” and demanded a no-confidence vote in parliament, rather than Johnson “clinging on for months and months to come”.
Even while eyeing the exit, Johnson on Thursday sought to steady the ship with several appointments to replace the departed cabinet members. They included Greg Clark, an arch “remainer” opposed to Brexit.
Johnson had been clinging on to power despite a wave of more than 50 government resignations, expressing defiance late Wednesday.
But Thursday’s departure of education minister Michelle Donelan and a plea to quit from finance minister Nadhim Zahawi, only in their jobs for two days, appeared to tip the balance.
‘No functioning government’
The impending announcement triggered speculation about who will take over, with defence minister Ben Wallace and Rishi Sunak, whose departure as finance minister on Tuesday sparked the exodus, among the early frontrunners, according to a YouGov survey of Conservative party members.
Those members will decide the new leader once Tory MPs have whittled down the contenders to a final two.
Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis kicked off Thursday’s frenzied events, becoming the fourth cabinet minister to resign, writing that Johnson was “past the point of no return”.
The Conservative leader late on Wednesday defiantly responded to calls from his loyalists and cabinet colleagues to step down by sacking minister Michael Gove, with a Downing Street source telling media that his former Brexit top ally was a “snake”.
The Sun newspaper said Johnson had told colleagues they would have to “dip (their) hands in blood” to push him out of office, but Thursday’s events forced his hand.
The shock resignations of Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid late Tuesday set off a chain of others.
They quit after Johnson apologised for his February appointment of senior Conservative MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip. Pincher was forced to step down following accusations he drunkenly groped two men.
Days of shifting explanations followed the resignation, before Downing Street finally conceded that Johnson had known about Pincher’s behaviour as far back as 2019.
Tory critics said the Pincher affair had tipped many over the edge, angry at having to defend what they saw as more lies by Johnson.
Johnson was confronted by members of his cabinet on Wednesday when he returned to Downing Street from a lengthy grilling by a parliamentary committee.
The delegation was said to include hardline interior minister Priti Patel.
Camilla Cavendish, former head of Downing Street’s policy unit, told the BBC that Britain no longer had “a functioning government” and the calls for Johnson.
Attorney General Suella Braverman told ITV that while she would not resign, “the balance has tipped now in favour of saying… it’s time to go”.
She became the first Tory to say she would stand in a leadership contest but is a rank outsider according to the bookmakers.
A culture of scandal has dogged Johnson for months, including lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
The prime minister, who received a police fine for the Covid lockdown-breaking “Partygate” affair, faces a parliamentary probe into whether he lied to MPs about the revelations.
He only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative MPs a month ago, which ordinarily would mean he could not be challenged again for another year.
But the influential “1922 Committee” of non-ministerial Tory MPs is reportedly seeking to change the rules, with its executive committee announcing Wednesday it will elect a fresh line up of members next week.
In parliament on Wednesday, Johnson vowed to carry on, insisting the country needed “stable government”.
But addressing MPs, Javid urged other ministers to resign.
“The problem starts at the top, and I believe that is not going to change,” he told a hushed House of Commons.
Cries of “bye, Boris” echoed around the chamber at the end of his speech.