Boris Johnson has announced his resignation as prime minister but defied pressure to step down immediately, insisting he would remain in office until a new Conservative party leader is chosen.
In an address in front of No 10 Downing Street, after days of turmoil and mass resignations from his government, the prime minister said: “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader for the Conservative party and therefore a new prime minister.”
Johnson, one the most controversial British leaders in modern times, said the timing of the leadership contest would be announced next week.
However, many Conservatives, including a number of former ministers, believe Johnson should leave Downing St immediately. “There’s no way I could serve under him in any circumstances,” said one.
Johnson’s announcement has fired the starting gun on the race to succeed him, with a wide array of candidates expected to confirm they are running in the coming days. There is no clear frontrunner.
His departure will end a tumultuous three years in office marked by Britain’s exit from the EU, the ravages of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis, as well as his 2019 election win — the Tories’ biggest victory for more than four decades.
Before his speech Johnson had already started to fill some ministerial vacancies, with Greg Clark set to come in — temporarily — as levelling-up secretary. James Cleverly becomes the third education secretary in as many days.
Johnson intends to convene his hastily assembled interim cabinet for a meeting on Thursday afternoon, in an attempt to convey a sense that he wants to maintain national stability.
But many ministers who have resigned in recent days — many strongly critical of the prime minister — have indicated they would refuse to return to government while Johnson remains in Number 10.
Johnson spoke to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbench MPs, at an 8.30am meeting in which the prime minister said he had concluded that he should resign in the interests of the party and the country.
The pound jumped 0.5 per cent against the dollar, from $1.193 to a high of $1.199, as investors reacted positively to Johnson’s expected resignation.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said: “Boris Johnson is unfit to govern and he needs to go now. He can’t cling on for months.”
Starmer said that if the Conservatives did not oust Johnson immediately, then Labour would “act in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence” in the House of Commons.