By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought to stay in office on Wednesday, fending off calls for his resignation after three Cabinet ministers and a slew of junior civil servants said they could no longer serve under its management plagued by scandals.
Johnson rejected demands to resign during a stormy House of Commons session amid a furor over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a senior civil servant. Later in the day, a delegation of some of his most trusted Cabinet allies visited the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street to urge him to leave, but he remained unmoved, Britain’s Press Association reported.
The Prime Minister rejected suggestions that he was seeking a “dignified exit” and instead chose to fight for his political career, citing “extremely important issues facing the country”, according to the news agency. He quoted a source close to Johnson as saying he had told colleagues there would be “chaos” if he quit.
The 58-year-old leader who pulled Britain out of the European Union and led it through the COVID-19 outbreak is known for his ability to navigate tough situations, managing to stay in power despite the allegations that he was too close to partying donors, that he shielded supporters from allegations of intimidation and corruption, and that he misled Parliament about parties in the Government Office who have breaking pandemic lockdown rules.
He hung on even when 41% of Tory lawmakers voted to oust him in a no-confidence vote last month.
But recent revelations that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a lawmaker before promoting him to a leadership position have pushed him to the brink.
By retaining his post, Johnson is attempting to challenge the mathematics of parliamentary government and the traditions of British politics. It is rare for a Prime Minister to cling to power in the face of so much pressure from his Cabinet colleagues.
“He is now smearing our democracy, and if he doesn’t do the right thing and leave of his own accord, then he will be kicked out,” Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford told AFP. the BBC.
Many of Johnson’s Tory colleagues feared he no longer had the moral authority to govern at a time when tough decisions are needed to deal with soaring food and energy prices, rising COVID-19 and war infections in Ukraine. Others fear that he is now a liability at the polls.
On Wednesday, members of the opposition Labor Party showered Johnson with shouts of “Go! Go!’ during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions ritual in the House of Commons.
Labor leader Keir Starmer quipped of the resignations surrounding Johnson: “Isn’t this the first recorded case of sinking fleeing the rat?”
More damningly, members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party – weary of the many scandals he has faced – have also challenged their leader.
“Frankly… the prime minister’s job in difficult circumstances, when he’s been given a colossal mandate, is to carry on,” Johnson replied with the bluster he’s used to fend off criticism for nearly three years in office. “And that’s what I will do.”
Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who helped spark the current crisis when he resigned on Tuesday night, captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to damage the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he told fellow lawmakers. “I believe that point is now.”
According to party rules, another vote of no confidence cannot take place for another 11 months, but party members can change the rules. The 1922 Committee, a small but influential group of Conservative lawmakers, could decide as early as Monday whether to do so.
Javid and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other following the latest furor. The two Cabinet heavyweights were tasked with tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain – the cost of living crisis and COVID-19.
In a scathing letter, Sunak said: “The public rightly expects government to be run properly, competently and seriously. … I think these standards are worth defending and that is why I am resigning.
The resignations of some 40 junior ministers and ministerial aides followed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A third Cabinet official, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, resigned on Wednesday evening, saying ‘we are past the point’ where it is possible to ‘turn around’.
As Johnson dug in, critics accused him of refusing to accept the inevitable and behaving more like a president than a prime minister by referring to his “mandate”. In Britain, voters elect a party to govern, not the prime minister directly.
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said Tuesday night that Johnson’s time was finally up.
“It’s a bit like the death of Rasputin: he was poisoned, stabbed, he was shot, his body was thrown into a frozen river and he is still alive,” Mitchell told the BBC. “But he is an abnormal prime minister, a brilliantly charismatic character, very funny, very funny, tall, tall. But I’m afraid he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for Sunak and Javid was the Prime Minister’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher.
Last week Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip after complaining about groping two men at a private club. It sparked a series of reports into past allegations against Pincher – and shifting explanations from the government about what Johnson knew when he hired the man for a leadership role under party discipline.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the last name of the president of the International Chamber of Commerce in Britain. It’s Drechsler, not Drexler.
Follow all AP coverage of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at https://apnews.com/hub/boris-johnson