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Two key ministers quit UK government in major blow to Boris Johnson

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By Euronews
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his hand over his face.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his hand over his face.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Two key UK ministers quit within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening in a major blow to under-fire Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, resigned saying he had lost confidence in Johnson.

Then just minutes later, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer -- or finance minister -- followed Javid out of Downing Street. 

Johnson has quickly moved to replace Javid with Downing Street Chief of Staff Steve Barclay, while education minister Nadhim Zahawi will step in for Sunak, the prime minister's office confirmed on Tuesday night.

He has also sent letters to both former ministers, stating Javid "will be greatly missed" and that he "will miss working with [Sunak] in government."

Other Conservative party officials' resignations followed the two high-profile ones. The party's vice chair Bim Afolami stepped down during a TV interview, while Tory MP Andrew Murrison quit as Johnson's trade envoy. Several parliamentary aides have resigned as well.

It comes after a series of scandals -- including boozy social gatherings at the heart of government during the COVID lockdowns -- saw Johnson's popularity plummet. 

He survived a Conservative Party vote of confidence last month, but 41% voted to remove him from office. 

What did Sajid Javid say?

"It has been an enormous privilege to serve in this role, but I regret that I can no longer continue in good conscience," Javid stated on Twitter.

Javid, who held the post since June 2021, published his letter of resignation, in which he said that Johnson lost his confidence as a leader.

"[Conservative party] may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest. Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither."

"The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree," Javid said.

"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."

What are Sunak's reasons for quitting?

Sunak also posted his letter of resignation on Twitter, stating he understood this might be his last ministerial job, but that the citizens "rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously."

"Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it's not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one."

"In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different," Sunak explained.

"I am sad to be leaving government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this."

What are the reactions?

Johnson’s political opponents and critics alike have reacted to the news by stating that the rapid-fire resignations spell the end of his rule as prime minister.

Leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer spoke at a press conference in Scotland just minutes before Javid and Sunak resignations were made public, stating that Johnson’s cabinet members “should resign, or force him to resign”.

“It’s their responsibility, in the national interest, to remove him from office,” Starmer said according to The Herald.

Starmer later issued a statement saying that “after all the sleaze, the scandals and the failure, it’s clear that this Government is now collapsing”.

“The British public will not be fooled. The Tory party is corrupted and changing one man won’t fit that.”

“Only a real change of government can give Britain a fresh start it needs.” Starmer concluded.

Chris Bryant, senior Labour MP and Chair of the Commons Standards Committee, called for a general election, saying on Twitter that the two “should have resigned months ago". 

"They should never have put [Johnson] in Downing Street in the first place. They have been complicit throughout,” Bryant tweeted.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said that “a house of cards built on lies and deceit has come crashing down” and Johnson has to "go and go now".

"You have discredited our great country long enough,” Davey said on Twitter.  

"Feels like end might be nigh for Johnson -- not a moment too soon," Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted, adding that "the whole rotten lot need to go. And Scotland needs the permanent alternative of independence."

Earlier in June, Sturgeon set out her legal roadmap to holding a new referendum on independence, tentatively set for 19 October 2023.

What led to Javid and Sunak's resignations?

The loss of confidence that resulted in the resignations of two key cabinet officials in the space of several minutes will put extraordinary pressure on Johnson, with him carrying on with his mandate now seriously under question.

The prime minister has been hit by allegations he failed to come clean about a lawmaker who was appointed to a senior position despite claims of sexual misconduct.

Johnson has faced pressure to explain what he knew about previous misconduct allegations against lawmaker Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip Thursday amidst complaints that he groped two men at a private club.

Minutes before the resignations of Javid and Sunak were announced, Johnson said Pincher should have been fired from the government after a previous 2019 incident.

Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said: “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do."

The government’s explanation shifted repeatedly over the past five days. Ministers initially said Johnson was not aware of any allegations when he promoted Pincher to the post in February.

On Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of sexual misconduct allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

That account did not sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said Tuesday that the prime minister’s office still wasn’t telling the truth.

McDonald said in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards that he received complaints about Pincher’s behaviour in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the complaint, and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.

McDonald disputed that Johnson was unaware of the allegations or that the complaints were dismissed because they had been resolved or not made formally.