Boris Johnson finally announced his resignation today admitting ‘no-one is indispensable’ – but is lining up a ‘unity Cabinet’ as he battles to stay in Downing Street for months longer.
In a statement in Downing Street, the PM tried to sound an upbeat tone as he confirmed his MPs ‘clearly’ want a change and his time in office will come to an end when a new Tory leader is installed.
Standing at the traditional podium and watched by wife Carrie, baby Romy and close aides, Mr Johnson said the situation was ‘painful’ and branded the move to oust him ‘eccentric’.
But he pointed to his achievements since winning the huge landslide – such as the vaccine rollout, Brexit and coming to the aid of Ukraine.
He said his message to voters who delivered his 2019 landslide was ‘thank you for that incredible mandate’, adding the ‘reason I have fought so hard’ was because he felt it was his ‘job’ to deliver what he promised.
‘I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world, but them’s the breaks,’ he said.
Mr Johnson blamed ‘powerful herd instinct’ for his ousting, saying: ‘In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate and when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls, even in mid-term after quite a few months of pretty relentless sledging and when the economic scene is so difficult domestically and internationally.
‘I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.
‘But as we have seen at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful, 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 through tough times.’
Mr Johnson paid tribute to his family for ‘all they have put up with’, in a nod to the succession of scandals that have blighted his premiership.
‘Our future is golden,’ he finished.
No10 had appealed for Conservative MPs to come and watch the speech in the street, but there only seemed to be a small crowd present.
Mr Johnson admitted defeat in the wake of a shattering intervention from Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed on Tuesday night following Rishi Sunak’s departure. He told Mr Johnson that his situation is ‘not sustainable’.
A No10 source said Mr Johnson has spoken to Tory 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady and agreed to stand down, with a new Tory leader set to be in place by the party conference in October.
However, at the same time Mr Johnson has set about rebuilding his Cabinet, making Greg Clark the new Levelling Up Secretary and James Cleverly the Education Secretary. Robert Buckland is returning as Welsh Secretary, and Shailesh Vara takes over as Northern Ireland Secretary.
Kit Malthouse becomes Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Mr Clark was in the Cabinet under Theresa May but stepped down when Mr Johnson took over, and Mr Buckland was axed as Justice Secretary in a reshuffle last year. Mr Vara was previously a Northern Ireland minister but has been out of government.
The others are long-standing allies promoted from other jobs.
The PM’s resignation announcement effectively fires the starting gun on what looks set to be a chaotic leadership battle. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – expected to be a candidate – is cutting short a visit to Indonesia to return to the UK.
However, it is far from clear that Mr Johnson staying on until October – more than two months – will be acceptable to Tory MPs. More than 50 government members have resigned, and there will be questions over whether they can simply be reappointed, or would even agree to that. There are rumours that Mr Johnson still wants to push key policies such as tax cuts.
Keir Starmer threatened to call a Parliamentary confidence vote and try to force a general election if Mr Johnson does not leave immediately.
‘He needs to go completely. None of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months,’ he said.
In his Downing Street speech, Mr Johnson said he is ‘immensely proud’ of the Government’s achievements.
‘I’m immensely proud of the achievements of this Government, from getting Brexit done to settling our relations with the continent for over half a century, reclaiming the power for this country to make its own laws in Parliament, getting us all through the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown, and, in the last few months, leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine,’ he said.
He said his successor’s priorities would be ‘helping families to get through … cutting burdens on businesses and families, and, yes, cutting taxes because that is the way to generate the growth and the income we need to pay the great public services.
‘To that new leader, I say, whoever he or she may be, I say: ‘I will give you as much support as I can’.
‘To you, the British public, I know that there will be many people who are relieved and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed.
‘I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world.’