UK PM Johnson faces parliamentary inquisition after top ministers quit
LONDON, July 6, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two
high-stakes encounters in parliament on Wednesday after his government
wasrocked by the shock departures of two senior ministers.
Rishi Sunak resigned as finance minister, and Sajid Javid as health
secretary on Tuesday night. Both said they could no longer tolerate the culture
of scandal that has stalked Johnson for months.
They will now sit on the Conservative back benches at the weekly session of
Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons at 1100 GMT -- which
promises to be even more combustible than usual.
Johnson then faces an hours-long grilling from the chairs of the Commons'
most powerful committees, who include some of his most virulent critics in the
The exits of Sunak and Javid were announced minutes after the prime
minister apologised for appointing a senior Conservative, who quit last week
after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men.
Former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has been elevated to the finance
Days of shifting explanations had followed the resignation of deputy chief
whip Chris Pincher. Downing Street at first denied Johnson knew of prior
allegations against Pincher when appointing him in February.
But by Tuesday, that defence had collapsed after a former top civil servant
said Johnson, as foreign minister, was told in 2019 about another incident
involving his ally.
The Pincher affair was the "icing on the cake" for Sunak and Javid, Tory MP
Andrew Bridgen, a Johnson critic, told Sky News.
"It's time for Boris to go. He can drag this out for a few more hours if he
"But I and a lot of the party now are determined that he will be gone by
the summer recess (starting on July 22): the sooner the better."
The resignations dominated British newspaper front pages. Under the
headline "Johnson on the brink," The Times said the "apparently coordinated"
move "dealt a potentially fatal blow to the prime minister".
"Johnson hanging by a thread as Sunak and Javid walk out," was the
assessment from the prime minister's former employers at The Daily Telegraph.
The Guardian and Financial Times also said the PM was "on the brink" while
the conservative Daily Mail tabloid was more colourful: "Can even Boris the
Greased Piglet wriggle out of this?"
The resignations came after Johnson only narrowly survived a vote of no
confidence among Conservative MPs a month ago.
Other cabinet members including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence
Secretary Ben Wallace -- two likely contenders for the leadership -- continue
to back Johnson, aides said.
- Humility? -
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a doggedly loyal cabinet ally, dismissed the resignations
as "little local difficulties".
"Losing chancellors is something that happens," he said on Sky News,
pointing to past Tory leaders -- although Margaret Thatcher was ultimately
felled by a cabinet revolt by top allies.
Sunak's departure in particular, in the middle of policy differences over a
cost-of-living crisis sweeping Britain, is dismal news for Johnson.
The 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," Sunak wrote to Johnson.
Javid preceded Sunak at the Treasury before quitting over a prior bust-up
He wrote that the prime minister's survival in last month's no-confidence
vote gave him the opportunity to show "humility, grip and new direction".
"I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will
not change under your leadership -- and you have therefore lost my confidence
- 'Collapsing' -
Johnson has been embroiled in various scandals, above all the so-called
"Partygate" affair, which saw him receive a police fine for breaking his own
coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Downing Street.
The 58-year-old premier still faces a parliamentary probe into whether he
lied to MPs over the lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.
Pincher's departure from the whips' office -- charged with enforcing party
discipline and standards -- marked yet another allegation of sexual misconduct
by Tories in recent months.
Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned in April after he was caught watching
pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons.
That prompted a by-election in his previously safe seat, which the party
went on to lose in a historic victory for the opposition Liberal Democrats.
Labour, the main opposition party, defeated the Conservatives in another
by-election in northern England on the same day, prompted by the conviction of
its Tory MP for sexual assault.
The controversies have come with Britain battling the worsening
cost-of-living crisis and a summer of strikes by various unions over wages and
Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was "clear that this government is now