LONDON — Scandal-ridden British Prime Minister Boris Johnson capitulated to mounting pressure to step down Thursday, announcing his decision after days of high-profile government resignations and calls from fellow Conservative Party members to quit.
“In the past few weeks, I have been trying to convince my colleagues it would be eccentric to change governments when we have achieved so much,” he said in his speech outside No. 10 Downing St. amid loud booing from the crowd nearby. “I regret not to be successful in those arguments and, of course, it’s painful not to be able to see through those projects myself.”
Johnson also said he planned to remain as prime minister until a successor is chosen — a move that may face opposition from others in an increasingly hostile Parliament.
He becomes the third consecutive British prime minister to resign before their term in recent years, following in the footsteps of Theresa May and David Cameron.
Months of discontent over Johnson’s judgment and ethics within his governing party erupted with the resignations of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other Tuesday evening.
The final straw for them was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of sexual misconduct allegations within Conservative Party ranks.
Calls for Johnson’s resignation had only intensified in the hours that followed, during which more than 50 other members of the government also resigned.
The embattled prime minister had few allies left in the final hours before his announcement, with even ministers he had appointed 36 hours ago turning against him. Before his announcement Thursday, Johnson was abandoned by the finance minister and the education minister he had promoted in a bid to hold on. They were joined by a succession of other ministers — leaving the government virtually rudderless as it faces some of its most serious crises in decades.
“Yesterday, I made clear to the Prime Minister alongside my colleagues in No. 10 that there was only one direction where this was going, and that he should leave with dignity,” newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi wrote in an open letter published on Twitter early Thursday.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government at this late hour,” he said.
British prime ministers are not directly elected by voters and instead are chosen to lead their party. As such, Johnson needs the support of fellow Conservative Party members to stay in power.
He survived a no-confidence vote by his party last month in which a bruising 41% of its lawmakers voted to oust him. That followed the scandal dubbed “partygate,” which saw Johnson fined by police and slammed by an investigator’s report over lockdown-breaching parties he and his aides held during the Covid pandemic.
Other ministers urged the need to secure a functioning government amid the crisis, which left a slew of government departments without ministers to lead them.
“It’s our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government,” senior minister Michael Ellis said in the House of Commons before Johnson’s announcement.
His sentiments were echoed by the political opposition.
“He needs to go completely. None of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months. He inflicted lies, fraud and chaos in the country. We are stuck with a government which isn’t functioning in the middle of the cost of living crisis,” Labour Party leader Keir Starmer told Sky News.
Other ministers, however, had believed they had the obligation to stay put.
“A number of us have an obligation to keep this country safe, no matter who is PM. The Party has a mechanism to change leaders and that is the mechanism which I advise colleagues to use. In the meantime, the public would not forgive us if we left these Offices of State empty,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace wrote in a tweet.
This report was originally published on NBC News