Boris Johnson’s attempts to fight for his job came under further pressure after more resignations and a leadership challenge from former ally Suella Braverman.
The prime minister rejected calls to resign on Wednesday and dramatically fired his cabinet rival, Michael Gove, but was later hit by the departure of a third cabinet minister, Welsh secretary Simon Hart, and more demands from the attorney general. for him to leave.
Johnson met ministers at Number 10 on Wednesday, where they told him he had lost the trust of the Tory party and should no longer be in office, but he refused to listen.
Gove is believed to have told the prime minister on Wednesday morning that it was time for him to step down.
That was followed by a delegation of cabinet ministers heading to number 10 to tell Johnson that he should stand down after losing the trust of his MPs.
All 10 sources confirmed that Mr Gove had been fired, with one telling the BBC: “You can’t have a snake that isn’t with you on any of the big arguments and then gleefully informs the press that he has asked that the leader Go away.
“You can’t operate like this.”
Johnson’s relationship with Gove has long been troubled, with the prime minister’s 2016 leadership campaign derailed when his rival withdrew support and decided to run himself.
But it wasn’t just Gove who tried to persuade Johnson that his time at No. 10 should be over.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Mr Hart were among the ministers. cabinet that Johnson was asked to step down.
Braverman later joined calls for the prime minister to step down when he launched a bid to replace him.
The attorney general, formerly loyal to Johnson, told Peston on ITV that he had handled matters “appallingly” in recent days and that “the scales have now tipped in favor of saying that the prime minister, it pains me to say it, but it’s time to go.”
Ms. Braverman said it was her “duty” to continue in her current role, but said, “If there is a competition for leadership, I will put my name in the ring.”
The attorney general, who has acknowledged Johnson could fire her, will face MPs in the House of Commons on Thursday morning.
Hart resigned on Wednesday night, following in the footsteps of former cabinet colleagues Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, who departed a day earlier.
In his resignation letter, Hart said he wanted to help Johnson “turn the ship around,” but “we’re past the point where this is possible.”
Health Minister Ed Argar, another former Johnson supporter, also resigned, saying: “I’m afraid a change is needed.”
The PA news agency understands that Ms Patel earlier spoke to the Prime Minister to convey the “overwhelming view” of the parliamentary party.
Shapps is believed to have told Johnson that he had little chance of winning another vote of confidence and should instead set a timetable for a departure on his own terms.
Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed foreign minister on Tuesday, was also thought to be among those involved in the showdown with Johnson.
But Johnson rejected suggestions that he should seek a “more dignified exit” and will instead fight for his political future.
A No 10 source said: “The Prime Minister has a mandate of 14 million people to do a job. He is very aware of his commitment to them.
“If the party wants to stop him, they have to take that mandate away from him.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Conservative Committee, spoke with Johnson on Wednesday to establish the level of opposition on the backbench.
A new executive will be chosen for the committee on Monday, which could change the leadership rules, allowing another vote of confidence just a month after the last one, which Johnson stands to lose given the way MPs have deserted him since Tuesday.
But a No 10 source said: “He has caught Graham Brady’s bluff. All Graham could say is that there will be an election on Monday.
“A new 1922 committee on Tuesday could change the rules, but it is not a given.
“The party could then demand a repetition of the motion of censure, but not a fact.
“And the party could then decide to get rid of the prime minister, but it is not a given.”
The source warned that “the choice is not Boris or not Boris.
“The choice is either a Conservative government with a new chancellor who will soon outline a new economic agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and the benefits of Brexit, or three months of tearing each other apart to choose a leader without a mandate.”
Allies, including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, continued to support Johnson.
Mrs. Dorries said that the Prime Minister’s priority was “to stabilize the Government”.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also remained loyal to Johnson, defending him at a 1922 Committee session.
But since the resignations of Sunak and Javid on Tuesday night, dozens of MPs have resigned as ministers, PPS or trade envoys.
Javid used his resignation statement in the House of Commons to say “enough is enough” and challenged other cabinet ministers to consider his positions.
“Walking the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months,” he told MPs.
“I will never risk losing my integrity.”
He said that “the problem starts at the top and I think that is not going to change.”
In a message to cabinet ministers who have decided not to resign, he said: “It behooves us all to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when others fall short of them.”
The speech, which had echoes of Geoffrey Howe’s 1990 resignation statement that helped unseat Margaret Thatcher, was heard in silence in the House of Commons, with Johnson sitting grimly in the front pew.
Other ministers who resigned on Wednesday included Will Quince, Robin Walker, John Glen, Victoria Atkins, Jo Churchill, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Neil O’Brien, Alex Burghart, Lee Rowley, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Rachel Maclean and Mike Freer. . .
In your resignation letters:
– Former minister for children and families, Mr Quince, said he could not accept being sent to defend the prime minister on television with inaccurate information about the Chris Pincher row.
– Former attorney general Ms. Atkins told Mr. Johnson: “I can no longer do somersaults around our fractured values. We can and must do better than this.”
– Mrs Churchill resigned as Environment Minister, saying: “Recent events have shown that integrity, competence and judgment are essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a playful and self-serving approach is sure to have its limitations” .
The leadership crisis followed the scandal surrounding former deputy chief Pincher, who resigned after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London’s Carlton Club.
Downing Street initially said Johnson was unaware of previous allegations against Pincher, but the prime minister later acknowledged he had been informed of inappropriate behavior dating back to 2019 and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that time.
The Prime Minister’s authority had already been damaged by a vote of confidence in which 41% of his own MPs withdrew their support in June.
The loss of crucial by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton later that month prompted the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while resentment over anti-coronavirus lockdown parties in Downing Street still lingers.