Is this the end for Boris Johnson?

WHAT HAS HAPPENED?

Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Javid highlighted concerns about the leadership in their resignation letters.

Sunak, the now former chancellor of the exchequer, said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”.

“I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning,” he said.

He also hinted at splits on economic policy, with a planned joint speech with the prime minister making it clear “our approaches are fundamentally too different”.

Javid said the public had concluded that under Johnson the Conservative Party were not “competent in acting in the national interest”.

 

WHY NOW?

Johnson’s judgment has once again been called into question over his handling of the Chris Pincher row.

The former deputy chief whip quit last week after he “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself” at the exclusive Carlton Club, where he allegedly assaulted two male guests.

The prime minister was forced into a humiliating apology after admitting he knew about previous inappropriate behaviour by Pincher when he was a foreign office minister in 2019 but still appointed him to a senior government role.

 

ANY OTHER CAUSES OF CONCERN?

Plenty. Last month, 41 per cent of Conservative MPs said they had no confidence in Johnson, with issues including his personal style, economic policy and a scathing report into lockdown-busting parties at his Downing Street offices.

Some were prepared to back Johnson, who led the party to a landslide election win in 2019, because of his popularity with voters.

But recent by-election defeats, which led to the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, cast doubt on Johnson remaining an electoral asset to the party.

 

WHAT NEXT FOR SUNAK AND JAVID?

Both have leadership ambitions and are in a position to inflict further wounds on the prime minister.

As resigning ministers they have the opportunity to make statements in the House of Commons explaining their reasons.

 

IS IT JUST THE USUAL SUSPECTS THAT JOHNSON NEEDS TO WORRY ABOUT?

MP Jonathan Gullis, previously a Johnson loyalist, resigned as a ministerial aide.

“For too long we have been more focused on dealing with our reputational damage rather than delivering for the people of this country and spreading opportunity for all, which is why I came into politics,” he said.

 

SO IS THIS THE END?

It is a matter of days since Johnson said he was looking ahead to a third term in office which would keep him in No.10 into the 2030s, so resigning does not appear to be on his mind.

Unless the remaining cabinet ministers tell him the game is up, the main source of danger for the prime minister may be another attempt by backbenchers to oust him.

For that to happen, the rules will need to be changed to allow a second confidence vote within 12 months.

 

CAN HE SURVIVE?

Under normal political rules, a prime minister in Johnson’s position would probably already be calling the removal vans to Downing Street.

But he has made a career out of defying political gravity and still has a comfortable parliamentary majority.

Former prime minister and Conservative leader David Cameron described Johnson as a “greased piglet” and the current incumbent in British politics’ top seat may yet find a way to save his bacon.

 

 

Here are some of the early potential frontrunners to replace Johnson as Prime Minister:

– Jeremy Hunt

The former foreign secretary and ex-health secretary has been a persistent backbench critic of Johnson and has called on the Prime Minister to quit.

Hunt is widely expected to make a fresh bid for the leadership if there is a contest, having been runner-up to Johnson in 2019, and is among the early favourites with bookmakers.

As chairman of the Commons Health Committee, he has used his position to make a number of critical interventions on the Government’s handling of the pandemic, although his strong support for lockdown measures will not have pleased all Tory MPs.

– Sajid Javid

Like Sunak, Javid’s resignation on Tuesday caused chaos in Number 10, as the Health Secretary from famously humble beginnings left the Government.

State school-educated Javid – known as “The Saj” in some circles – is the son of a bus driver who arrived in England from Pakistan in the 1960s, and held ministerial roles in housing, business and culture before becoming Chancellor, and then Health Secretary in the middle of the pandemic.

Javid made it to the final four in the contest to replace Theresa May as Tory leader in 2019, but dropped out and subsequently endorsed Johnson. He told reporters after his resignation on Tuesday evening that he was looking forward to spending time with his family – but for how long?

– Penny Mordaunt

Another frontrunner with the bookies, Mordaunt made waves in 2019 as the UK’s first female defence secretary before being fired by Johnson shortly after becoming PM.

Mordaunt has many strings to her bow – she is a Royal Navy reservist, the current trade minister and a former reality television contestant, having appeared on the Tom Daley-fronted diving show Splash.

She played a prominent role in the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and has previously reportedly enjoyed the backing of Dame Andrea Leadsom among others.

– Rishi Sunak

The former Chancellor’s rise from relative obscurity to household name came as he turned on the spending taps to protect jobs through the furlough scheme when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

His calm and measured delivery during televised Covid briefings, and his viral declaration of love for a popular soft drink, will have endeared him to those perhaps not always plugged in to the political goings-on, as well as his resignation on matters of principle on Tuesday.

But his stock took a tumble more recently following disclosures that his wife had non-dom status for tax purposes, and that he was too slow to respond to the cost-of-living crisis.

– Liz Truss

The Foreign Secretary has made little secret of her leadership ambitions, with a series of high-profile interventions and photo opportunities in which she appeared to be channelling late PM Margaret Thatcher.

Her hard line on Ukraine, insisting Russian forces must be driven from the country, and threats to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU, play well with sections of the party.

Away from politics, Truss’s flair for social media has seen her offer an insight into life outside of Westminster by updating her Instagram account with pictures of her relaxing at the beach, or behind the scenes at official events, though her passions combined to bizarre effect in 2014 when her improbably enthusiastic speech about opening pork markets in Beijing went viral.

– Tom Tugendhat

The polyglot chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee became the first to announce his intention to stand for leader should Johnson be turfed out – with his declaration made in January.

A Remainer in 2016, the former soldier has been a trenchant critic of Johnson – a stance that would appear to have cost him any chance of ministerial preferment under the current leadership.

He recently sought to distance himself from a call by his fellow Remainer, Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood, for the UK to rejoin the EU single market.

– Ben Wallace

The Defence Secretary has won admirers in Westminster for his straight-talking and straightforward approach, particularly among Tory MPs who pressed for the UK to increase its defence spending, although cuts to the size of the Army remain a cause for concern.

Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, remains a key voice in the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and this increased exposure could assist any leadership bid.

He has consistently supported Johnson, but has pressed the case for increased defence spending.

– Nadhim Zahawi

The former education secretary is regarded by some as a “safe pair of hands” if other candidates prove too divisive – indeed he was the man trusted to take on the broadcast round of interviews on Wednesday morning, on his first full day in his new job as Chancellor.

But asked if he will run for leader when there is a vacancy, he said: “There is no vacancy.”

Iraqi-born Zahawi was a successful businessman and came to wider prominence as vaccines minister during the pandemic where he was credited with playing a key part in the successful rollout of the jab.

 

Ryan Hooper and Gavin Cordon
(Australian Associated Press)

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