UK PM Boris Johnson in crisis as top ministers quit

LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) – Britain’s finance and health ministers resigned on Tuesday in what could spell the end for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership after he had tried to apologise for the latest scandal to blight his administration.

Both finance minister Rishi Sunak and health minister Sajid Javid sent resignation letters within minutes of each other to the prime minister, in which both took aim at his ability to run an administration that adhered to standards.

The resignations came as Johnson was apologising for what he said was a mistake for not realising that a former minister in charge of pastoral care was unsuitable for a job in government after complaints of sexual misconduct were made against him, in the latest embarrassment to have engulfed his government.

Both Sunak and Javid had formerly publicly supported Johnson during months of scandal over his administration’s conduct and a damning report into parties at his Downing Street office and residence that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Sunak, who had reportedly clashed with the prime minister in private about spending, said: “For me to step down as Chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly.”

“However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Javid said many lawmakers and the public had lost confidence in Johnson’s ability to govern in the national interest.

“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 too,” Javid said in a letter to Johnson.

Their resignations came just minutes after Johnson went on television to apologise for appointing lawmaker Christopher Pincher to a role involved in offering pastoral care in the Conservative Party.

Pincher’s resignation last Thursday triggered days of a changing narrative from Downing Street over what the prime minister knew of the deputy chief whip’s behaviour and when he knew it.

Earlier on Tuesday after a former top official accused Johnson’s office of lying, the prime minister’s spokesman was forced into a quick about-turn to say the British leader had been briefed in “some form” about the case but had forgotten about that last week.

For many in the governing party, another allegation of lying and the explanation of a loss of memory only heightened their frustration with the Johnson administration, which some lawmakers say is paralysed by having to deal with scandals.

Some Conservative lawmakers are trying to renew attempts to unseat him, just a month after the prime minister survived a confidence vote, while others earlier appealed to his top team of cabinet ministers to move against Johnson.

“He’s finished,” said one previously loyal Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity. “He shouldn’t prolong the agony. It’s disrespectful to his colleagues, his party and his country.”

Another previously loyal lawmaker agreed: “It is all over. I would be amazed if he lasts until the summer now.”

Local media reported that Johnson did still command the support of a number of senior ministers including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

But among lawmakers, there was speculation that other junior ministers could also quit.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said those who had backed Johnson were complicit in how he had performed his job.

“After all the sleaze, the scandals and the failure, it’s clear that this government is now collapsing,” he said.

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