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Boris Johnson on the brink: British PM sacks Michael Gove as he faces down delegation of ministers demanding he quit

  • Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor on Tuesday, alongside Sajid Javid who resigned as health secretary
  • More ministers resign
  • Boris Johnson tells MPs: ‘The job of a prime minister is to keep going… that’s what I’m going to do’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons in London. Picture: Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons in London. Picture: Reuters

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons in London. Picture: Reuters

Boris Johnson dramatically sacked Cabinet rival Michael Gove and rejected calls to quit as support for his leadership collapsed at Westminster.

The British Prime Minister met ministers in No 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, where he was told he had lost the confidence of the Tory party and could not continue in office.

Mr Gove was thought to have told the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning that it was time for him to quit.

That was followed by a delegation of Cabinet ministers going to No 10 to tell Mr Johnson he should stand down after losing the trust of his MPs.

The BBC reported that Communities Secretary Mr Gove had been sacked, with a No 10 source telling the broadcaster: “You cannot have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully briefs the press that he has called for the leader to go.

“You cannot operate like that.”

Mr Johnson’s relationship with Mr Gove has long been troubled, with the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign in 2016 derailed when his rival withdrew support and decided to run himself.

But it was not only Mr Gove who sought to persuade Mr Johnson that his time in No 10 should end.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart were among the Cabinet ministers telling Mr Johnson to stand down.

It is understood Ms Patel spoke to the Prime Minister to convey the “overwhelming view” of the parliamentary party.

Mr Shapps is thought to have told Mr Johnson that he stood little chance of winning another confidence vote and should instead set out a timetable for a departure on his own terms.

Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed Chancellor on Tuesday, was also thought to be among those taking part in the showdown with Mr Johnson.

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But Mr Johnson rejected suggestions he should seek a “more dignified exit” and will instead fight for his political future – something which could trigger further Cabinet resignations.

A source close to the Prime Minister said he told his colleagues there would be “chaos” if he quit and the party would almost certainly lose the next election.

The source said Mr Johnson was “continuing to focus on delivering for the public” and addressing the “hugely important issues facing the country”.

Neither Mr Shapps nor Mr Zahawi are expected to resign, despite the Prime Minister’s refusal to go.

Allies including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg all remained supportive of Mr Johnson.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also remained loyal to Mr Johnson and defended him at a session of the backbench 1922 Committee.

The delegation of Cabinet ministers is this evening told Mr Johnson to leave Downing Street, as he haemorrhaged support across the Tory ranks.

The British Prime Minister insisted "I'm not going to step down" as sources said Grant Shapps and Brandon Lewis are among a group of once-loyal allies who will on Wednesday demand he quits.

Nearly 20 ministers, and a line of ministerial aides, resigned as Mr Johnson's authority drained away in a dramatic 24 hours in Westminster.

The prime minister earlier faced an intense grilling before opposition critics and Tory MPs alike on the Commons Liaison Committee, as the stream of ministerial resignations continued.

After being repeatedly pressed for a direct answer, Mr Johnson said "of course" he ruled out triggering a general election if the Tories force him from office.

Told that there was a delegation of Cabinet ministers waiting for him at Downing Street, Mr Johnson referred to the invasion of Ukraine and said "I can't for the life of me see how it is responsible just to walk away from that".

He did not deny reports that Cabinet minister Michael Gove told him early on Wednesday that he must stand down, but insisted he would still be leader on Thursday.

The mass resignation of ministers, along with a string of parliamentary aides, came after Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid quit their Cabinet posts on Tuesday evening.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Johnson said the "colossal mandate" he had been handed by voters in 2019 means he should keep going despite the "difficult circumstances" he faces.

But Mr Javid's resignation statement in the House laid bare the scale of the problems facing the Prime Minister - and he challenged other Cabinet ministers to consider their positions.

The Prime Minister stayed in the Commons chamber as former health secretary Mr Javid set out the reasons for his resignation, saying Mr Johnson was not going to change and "enough is enough".

Mr Javid said: "Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.

"I will never risk losing my integrity."

He said "the problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change".

In a message to Cabinet ministers who decided not to quit, he said: "Not doing something is an active decision.

"I'm deeply concerned about how the next generation will see the Conservative Party on our current course.

"It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves and to take action when they are not met by others."

Communities Secretary Mr Gove, who has not resigned, was reported by the Mail + to have told Mr Johnson that he should go.

Among the 14 ministers to quit on Wednesday were 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 their resignation letters:

- Ex-children and families minister Mr Quince said he could not accept being sent out to defend the Prime Minister on television with inaccurate information over the Chris Pincher row.

- Former justice minister Ms Atkins told Mr Johnson: "I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values. We can and must do better than this."

- Ms Churchill quit as environment minister, saying: "Recent events have shown integrity, competence and judgment are all essential to the role of Prime Minister, while a jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations."

- Ms Maclean, who announced her resignation as a Home Office minister while Mr Johnson was giving evidence to the Liaison Committee of senior MPs, said the Prime Minister should "resign for the good of the country and our party".

- Mr Freer said he was quitting as equalities minister, complaining about "creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people", adding "I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with".

Laura Trott, Felicity Buchan, Selaine Saxby, Claire Coutinho, David Johnston, Duncan Baker, Craig Williams and Mark Logan resigned as ministerial aides, while Fay Jones said she would quit on Thursday unless the Prime Minister goes.

MPs on the backbenches were also turning away from the Prime Minister.

Education Select Committee chairman Rob Halfon said he would back a change in leadership, criticising not only a "real loss of integrity" but also "a failure of policy".

Transport Select Committee chairman Huw Merriman told the BBC Mr Johnson should resign if he has "any dignity left".

Former Cabinet ministers Robert Jenrick and Liam Fox withdrew their support.

Mr Quince was one of the ministers sent on the airwaves to defend Mr Johnson's position over Mr Pincher, who quit as deputy chief whip after allegedly assaulting two men while drunk at London's Carlton Club.

The Prime Minister later acknowledged he had previously been informed of allegations against Mr Pincher dating back to 2019 and said he regretted keeping him in government beyond that point.

Mr Quince said he had received a "sincere apology" from Mr Johnson for being sent out with an "inaccurate" briefing about the Prime Minister's knowledge of events.

The Prime Minister's authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his own MPs withdraw their support in June.

The loss of crunch by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton later that month triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden, while there is still lingering resentment over coronavirus lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

The Prime Minister's fate may ultimately lie with backbench MPs if the Tory 1922 Committee's rules are changed to allow another confidence vote within 12 months.

The committee's executive did not make any immediate changes to the rules but has scheduled elections for its executive committee to take place on Monday, before a result later that evening.

In a sign that discontent stretches across the party, Lee Anderson, one of the MPs elected in 2019 in Red Wall seats who largely owe their political careers to the Prime Minister, said he too had lost faith in the leader.

The Ashfield MP pointed to the row over Mr Pincher's appointment and said: "Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days."


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