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Two of Boris Johnson’s senior cabinet members resign amid series of scandals that has rocked the UK government

July 5, 2022, 6:51 PM UTC
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resign after a series of scandals have eroded Prime Minister Boris Johnson's leadership.
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Two of the most senior members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet quit in quick succession, a dramatic move that puts the UK Prime Minister in deep peril after a series of scandals that have severely eroded his authority.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said in a letter to the prime minister on Tuesday that “we cannot continue like this,” while Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Johnson that he’s lost confidence in him. Both men published their resignation letters on Twitter.

“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak wrote. “I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

The resignations came just as Johnson was acknowledging in a televised address that he had made a “mistake” in promoting Chris Pincher in February—two years after being told of a complaint against the Tory MP. Pincher quit as a government enforcer, or whip, last week when the Sun newspaper alleged he had groped two men.

While Pincher has denied allegations of specific incidents, he said in his resignation letter he’d “embarrassed” himself and “caused upset” to others. He and his office haven’t replied to repeated requests for comment.

The issue put a renewed focus on sleaze in Johnson’s Conservative Party, and called into question the prime minister’s judgment at a dangerous time. Tory MPs were already angry with Johnson over a series of missteps, including becoming the first sitting premier found to have broken the law when he was fined over the illegal parties in Downing Street during the pandemic.

“I think it was a mistake and I apologize for it,” Johnson said of Pincher’s promotion. “In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power.”

But the apology came too late for Sunak and Javid after a febrile day in Westminster in which Conservative MPs demanded the Cabinet act to oust Johnson. 

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng aren’t resigning, their spokespeople said on Tuesday. Other ministers staying on include Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob-Rees Mogg and Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris.

Rebels in the Conservative Party had been calling on senior cabinet ministers to take matters into their own hands after narrowly failing to oust Johnson in a confidence vote just last month. That, in theory, had left Johnson safe from a leadership challenge for 12 months.

But in reality, prime ministers rely on the support of their cabinet and the resignation of two of the most senior members will be a devastating—and potentially terminal—blow to Johnson.

—With assistance from Ellen Milligan.

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