After defiantly rejecting calls for his resignation, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that he would step down as leader of his party, which will eventually see him removed from the country’s top job.
Addressing the nation from in front of his 10 Downing Street office, Johnson thanked Britons for the “immense privilege” they had bestowed upon him but said he agreed it was time for his Conservative Party to have a new leader.
“It is clear now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new PM,” Johnson said. “I today appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place,” he continued, thanking voters for what he called an “incredible mandate.”
“The reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do, so but I felt it was my job, duty, obligation to you to continue to do what we promised,” Johnson said.
“As we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful, and when the herd moves, it moves. And my friends, in politics, no one is remotely indispensable, and our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader equally committed to taking this country forward.”
The move came after dozens of high-profile resignations by members of his cabinet and government and calls for his exit by members of his own party.
Johnson said that the timetable for choosing a new Conservative Party leader would begin next week, and earlier Thursday, the BBC reported that Johnson planned on continuing to serve as prime minister until the fall.
Johnson said he would support whoever was chosen as the new Conservative Party leader, and, over the sound of booing, told the British public directly that he knew “there will be many people who are relieved, and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”
Earlier Thursday, when reports of Johnson’s decision to resign first emerged, Conservative Member of Parliament Tobias Ellwood told the BBC that he was happy that Johnson had “recognized the damage that was being done, not just to the party brand but also our international stock,” and decided to step down.
A long series of scandals has engulfed Johnson, the latest involving former government minister Chris Pincher, who recently resigned after being accused of groping two men. Pincher was appointed as deputy chief whip by Johnson, and the prime minister initially claimed that he did not know about the misconduct allegations against Pincher. Johnson’s office changed the official account of what the prime minister knew two times over the last week as new information came to light.
Just last month, Johnson narrowly survived a no-confidence vote by his own party. In April, he was fined by police for violating COVID-19 restrictions during Britain’s pandemic lockdown, when he attended parties at his official residence.
On Wednesday, even after dozens of members his government had resigned, Johnson appeared to be remaining defiant.
“Frankly … the job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he’s been handed a colossal mandate, is to keep going,” he told the British Parliament’s House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
During that meeting, Johnson was repeatedly criticized and urged by a number of ministers from opposition parties to step down. As the meeting wrapped up, lawmakers could be heard shouting: “Bye, Boris!”
For those members of government who resigned Tuesday and Wednesday, the Pincher scandal appeared to have been the last straw.
“Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months, and Mr. Speaker, I will never risk losing my integrity,” Sajid Javid, the former health minister, said in his resignation statement during a gathering of parliament on Wednesday.
Javid said he had given the prime minister the benefit of the doubt for the last time.
Johnson’s almost 3-year-long tenure as prime minister will likely be remembered most for his ushering of Britain’s contentious “Brexit” from the European Union, a cause he had championed and campaigned for since the last few months in his previous job, as the Mayor of London.
Immediately after the 2016 referendum that saw U.K. voters narrowly approve the EU exit, Johnson was appointed British Foreign Secretary by then-Prime Minister Theresa May.
In 2018, however, he resigned from that post over what he claimed was May’s inability to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU.
About a year later, May was forced to resign after members of her own Conservative Party rejected several of her proposed Brexit deals. Johnson was selected to replace her. It was not until December 2019 that Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement was finally approved by the British Parliament, and the U.K. officially left the European Union the following month.