Boris Johnson’s premiership was teetering on the brink on Tuesday night, after chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid dramatically resigned from the cabinet.
Downing Street was braced for more ministers quitting with many Tory MPs believing the dual resignation of two senior ministers could signal the beginning of the end for Johnson.
Sunak and Javid criticised the prime minister’s conduct, with Sunak saying in a damning resignation letter: “The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”
On a day in which Johnson’s honesty was called into question, Sunak suggested the prime minister was prepared to deceive voters over the parlous state facing the economy and the need for “difficult decisions”.
“I believe the public are ready to hear the truth,” he said, adding that Johnson and he “fundamentally” disagreed over future economic policy. “Our people know that if something is too good to be true, then it’s not true.”
Sunak’s resignation came minutes after his old friend Javid quit, saying in his letter: “The tone you set as a leader, the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.”
Javid added: “The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. It was a moment for humility, grip and new direction. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership.”
The cabinet resignations followed the forced departure of disgraced former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher last week, after allegations that he groped two men while drunk at a private members’ club.
Downing Street insisted for days that Johnson had not been told about “specific allegations” of misconduct by Pincher in the past. On Tuesday Johnson admitted he had been briefed about the allegations in 2019 — but had forgotten about it. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” said one minister.
With ministers unwilling to publicly defend Johnson, the prime minister gave an interview to the BBC where he apologised for appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip in February. “With hindsight it was the wrong thing to do,” he said.