One day is a long time in politics for Boris Johnson.
The scandal-battered British prime minister’s presidency is shaken by the minute on Wednesday, after more than 30 members of his government resigned in the space of a hectic 24 hours in Westminster.
Drama erupted when Johnson apologized for his role in a scandal involving one of his top allies, Chris Pincher, who give up from a government role amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
A trickle of accusations and an explosive accusation from a former senior official forced Downing Street to change its story and admit that Johnson knew more than he was letting on about Pincher’s previous conduct when he was promoted.
As Johnson himself apologized for the matter in an interview Tuesday night, two of his most senior ministers were announcing his resignation from the government, setting in motion a day of political chaos that would bring Johnson’s prime minister to the brink.
Here’s how those 24 hours played out.
Tuesday, July 5
18:00 Johnson formally apologizes for the Pincher affair in a TV clip and admits that appointing Pincher as deputy head of government, despite learning of a 2019 investigation into his behavior, was “the wrong thing to do”.
18:02 Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigns as Johnson speaks, tweeting a damning resignation letter pointedly suggesting that the British “rightly expect integrity from their government.”
18:11 With Westminster still reeling from the resignation of a senior cabinet, Rishi Sunak makes two less than 10 minutes later. The chancellor appeared to blame his departure on divisions over economic policy, writing that: “It has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different.”
“We can’t go on like this,” he added. Camp officials at Javid and Sunak insist their resignations were not coordinated, although their moves were a sign that a significant number in the Tory Party had concluded that Johnson’s days were numbered.
7 p.m. Trade Envoy to Morocco Andrew Murrison, apparently live tweeting from a sauna, he becomes the third member of the government to publish a letter of resignation. The tarnished image obscured this quietly brutal line: “In February, I wrote a supportive op-ed for The Guardian saying that if he were forced to leave office, he would do so with his head held high. He would no longer write in those terms.” Here it is a clearer photo.
19:20 Tory Party deputy chairman Bim Afolami becomes fourth, resigning live on UK TV channel talkTV.
19:30-20:30 Resignations in the lower ranks of government continue to come in abundantly and rapidly, with three parliamentary private secretaries [PPSs] — ministerial assistants — announcing their departure.
20:58 If he was still bothering to read the resignation letters at this stage, Johnson will have been particularly hurt by the brutal note sent by the outgoing parliamentary assistant to the Welsh secretary. vanessa crosbie He says Johnson: “You risk irrevocably damaging this government and the Conservative Party… You seem to be ill-advised or unable to change… Brilliant job being done by many ministers [is] many times despite what happens around you… [The public believe] you can’t be trusted to tell the truth… you can serve [this country] one last time upon leaving office.”
21:30-22:00 Anyone expecting Johnson to go quietly is disappointed when the prime minister fills senior gaps in his cabinet with a defiant shakeup designed to shore up his position. Long-awaited leadership candidate Nadhim Zahawi is named chancellor, Johnson’s chief of staff Stephen Barclay moves to health reporting and Universities Minister Michelle Donelan is promoted to Zahawi’s previous post of education secretary.
22:02 and breathes A full hour with no resignations just for the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya Theo Clarke to announce that she is out.
22:47 Attorney General Alex Chalk completed the set to become the 10th member of the government in give up on Tuesday as Westminster headed for bed.
Wednesday, July 6
7:05 a.m. Zahawi begins a morning round of interviews with broadcasters, the first since his promotion to the Treasury the night before…
8.10 a.m. … But Zahawi’s interview with the BBC’s flagship program Today is marred by two resignations from government colleagues as he speaks. The chancellor admits that he regrets the departure of education minister Will Quince and parliamentary assistant Laura Trott.
9 a.m.–11:30 A steady stream of junior ministers and PPS continue to announce their departures, including seasoned city minister John Glen and prison minister Victoria Atkins.
12:05 17 government resignations later, a defiant Johnson faces his own stony-faced MPs, and jubilant Labor leader Keir Starmer, in his weekly Prime Minister’s Question session in the House of Commons. He insisted that he would “move on”, even as some of his own MPs used his questions to ask him to resign.
12.40 p.m After setting in motion the events that would jeopardize Johnson’s premiership the night before, Javid steals the parliamentary show with a withering statement after PMQ. “At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” said the former health secretary, addressing his fellow Conservative MPs directly, challenging those remaining in the cabinet to do the same.
14:25 Johnson’s preparations for an interrogation by the powerful liaison committee of senior MPs from all parties are interrupted by a series of particularly hurtful resignations. Neil O’Brien, Kemi Badenoch, Julia Lopez, Lee Rowley and Alex Burghart, all junior ministers seen as rising Conservative stars, are resigning at the same time with a joint letter to the prime minister. At this point, quitters come in batches.
15:00 Chairman Bernard Jenkin advises the MPs on the liaison committee to respect the prescribed order of questioning as Johnson sits down to face the MPs. As the world watches for signs that Johnson might take the hint, the prime minister answers questions about Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis before MPs can grill him on issues of “integrity in politics,” all while junior members of the government continue to announce their resignations.
15:40 Johnson’s plight is clearly illustrated when he tells MPs that “adequate protection is in place” to ensure Ukrainian refugees are housed safely; at the same time, his government minister responsible for that protection is announcing his resignation on Twitter.
16:24 multiple media reports they suggest that a group of cabinet ministers came to Downing Street to tell Johnson to resign. One problem: the PM is still answering questions in the liaison committee.
16:31 Zahawi, Johnson’s foreign minister for less than 24 hours, is among the cabinet ministers preparing to tell him to go.
5.13:00 As more resignations from the government continue to leak out and senior members of the government try to persuade Johnson to resign, the executive of the 1922 committee of Conservative Conservative MPs decide against changing the rules to allow another internal party to vote on Johnson’s future. A vote will be held on Monday to choose the new executive of the committee, who could have a different opinion.
18:00 24 hours after Johnson’s apology, media reports they suggest that the main remaining allies of Johnson’s cabinet have divided into two camps, those staying and those leaving, meeting in different parts of the Downing Street building. Johnson’s fate hangs dangerously in the balance.
9:00 pm Johnson fires one of his most important ministers, Michael Gove. The move follows reports that Gove, who has held several high-level posts in the Johnson government, has spoken with the prime minister and urged him to resign.