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UPDATE 11-Boris Johnson resigns as UK PM, dragged down by scandals

UPDATE 11-Boris Johnson resigns as UK PM, dragged down by scandals
UPDATE 11-Boris Johnson resigns as UK PM, dragged down by scandals

 


* Cabinet ministers resigned en masse, telling Johnson to leave

* 'They're the ones who make the difference,' says Johnson, blaming 'herd instinct'

* Aims to stay until his successor is named, many want him to leave now

* A combative and chaotic approach to governance has alienated many

* UK economy collapses due to cost of living crisis (Adds lawmaker Tugendhat to run in Conservative Party leadership race, FT on timetable for new PM appointment)

By Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) – Scandal-plagued Boris Johnson announced on Thursday he would step down as Britain's prime minister after significantly losing the support of his ministers and most Conservative lawmakers, but said He would remain in office until his successor was chosen.

Yielding to the inevitable as more than 50 government ministers and aides resigned and lawmakers said he must go, Johnson, isolated and helpless, said it was clear his party wanted someone 'other in charge, but that his forced departure was “eccentric” and the result of the “herd instinct” in Parliament.

“Today I have appointed a cabinet that will serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” Johnson said outside his Downing Street office where his speech was followed by his close allies and his wife Carrie.

“I know there will be many people who will be relieved and perhaps a number who will be disappointed as well. And I want you to know how sad I am to give up the best job in the world. But these are the breaks.” he added, without apologizing for the events that forced his announcement.

His tenure was interrupted by scandals that included violations of lockdown rules linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, a luxurious renovation of his official residence and the appointment of a minister accused of sexual misconduct.

There were cheers and applause as he began his speech, while boos rang out outside the Downing Street gates.

After days of fighting for his job, Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of his closest allies after the latest in a series of scandals undermined their willingness to support him.

“It was a short and bizarre resignation speech that did not once mention the word resignation or resignation. There was no apology, no contrition,” said Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen. “There has been no apology for the crisis his actions have put our government, our democracy, through.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process that could take weeks or months, with details to be announced next week.

POTENTIAL SUCCESSORS

A YouGov snap poll found Defense Minister Ben Wallace was the favorite among Conservative Party members to replace Johnson, followed by Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak.

Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs select committee, said on Thursday he planned to enter the leadership race.

While Johnson has said he will stay, his opponents and many in his own party have said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major said it was “unwise and perhaps untenable” for him to remain in power while he can still exercise his powers.

Johnson's office said he made clear at a meeting of his new cabinet on Thursday that the government would not seek to implement new policies or make major policy changes, and that budget decisions major ones should be left to the next leader.

The Financial Times, citing lawmakers familiar with the plans, said the party intended to have a new prime minister in place by the time Parliament returns from its summer recess in early September.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor Party, said he would call a parliamentary vote of confidence if the Conservatives did not remove Johnson immediately.

COST OF LIVING CRISIS

Johnson leaves behind an economy in crisis. Britons are facing the most severe pressure on their finances in decades as a result of the pandemic, with inflation soaring. The economy is expected to be the weakest of major nations in 2023, with the exception of Russia.

His departure also follows years of internal divisions triggered by the close 2016 vote to leave the European Union and threats to the makeup of the United Kingdom itself with the demand for another referendum on Scottish independence, the second in a decade.

Support for Johnson evaporated during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, epitomized by Finance Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, calling on his boss to resign.

Zahawi and other ministers went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, accompanied by a senior representative of non-government lawmakers, to tell Johnson the game was up.

Initially, Johnson refused to leave and appeared ready to step down, sacking Michael Gove – a member of his most senior ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he should resign – in a bid to reassert his authority.

But on Thursday morning, as a series of resignations poured in — including that of Michelle Donelan, whom he had named education secretary only Tuesday evening — it became clear that his position was untenable.

“You need to do the right thing and leave now,” Zahawi tweeted.

Some of those who stayed, including Wallace, said they did so only because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

Once it was clear he was stepping down, Johnson began appointing ministers to vacant posts.

“It is our duty now to ensure that the people of this country have a government that works,” Michael Ellis, the Cabinet Office minister who oversees government management, told Parliament.

FROM POPULAR TO DESERTED

The fiery Johnson came to power almost three years ago promising to deliver Brexit and save it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 referendum. He ignored concerns from some that his narcissism, his inability to handling details and his reputation for deception meant he wasn't a good fit.

Some Conservatives enthusiastically supported the former journalist and mayor of London, while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to a part of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

This was confirmed in the December 2019 election. But his administration's combative and often chaotic approach and scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the general public.

The most recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government position involved in pastoral care, resigned following accusations that he groped men at a private club.

Johnson had to apologize after learning he had been informed that Pincher had already been the subject of sexual misconduct complaints before appointing him. The Prime Minister said he had forgotten.

It follows months of missteps, including a damning report into drunken parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by the police for a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy reversals, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules and criticism that he hasn't done enough to combat the cost-of-living crisis.

In his resignation speech, Johnson highlighted his successes – from finalizing Brexit to overseeing the fastest COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Europe. But he said his attempts to persuade colleagues that the change of leader while there was a war in Ukraine and the government was carrying out its agenda had failed.

“I regret not having been successful in these debates. And of course, it is painful not to be able to carry out so many ideas and projects myself,” he said.

“But as we saw at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful: when the herd moves, it moves and, my friends, in politics, no one is indispensable.”

(Reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout; additional reporting by William James, Kylie MacLellan, Andrew MacAskill, William Schomberg, Muvija M, Farouq Suleiman and Sachin Ravikumar; writing by Michael Holden; editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Toby Chopra, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

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