LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party on Thursday (July 7), after many of his ministers deserted his Cabinet, claiming they no longer had faith in his leadership.
But in an unexpected move that deepens Britain’s unprecedented political crisis, he also announced his intention to remain as a caretaker prime minister until the Conservatives elect his successor. The process could well take months.
Breaking with the tradition of previous resigning prime ministers who tried to portray their departure as a painful but necessary step for the good of the country, he argued that being forced to “give up the best job in the world” after just three years is neither good for Britain nor what he desired.
“In the last few days, I have tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments,” he told the nation in a speech delivered on the doorstep of his Downing Street residence in Westminster, the heart of London.
He said nothing about his numerous mistakes, scandals and untruths that precipitated the current crisis. Instead, he accused party colleagues who had turned against him of acting as a “herd” in ignoring the will of the voters.
“As we have seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful, and when the herd moves, it moves,” he said.
Mr Johnson’s lack of remorse may well be his last and most egregious mistake in government. It considerably hardens the opposition to him as a person and encourages the Conservative Party in its determination not to allow him to be a caretaker leader for too long.
The centre-left Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, is demanding the dissolution of Parliament and early elections.
“Labour will, in the national interest, bring a no-confidence vote,” said Mr Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader.
But with a 73 seat-strong majority and a general election not due until January 2025, the Conservatives are unlikely to relinquish power.
The critical question is whether they can accelerate the process of electing a successor, or if they insist on Mr Johnson leaving now, to make way for a less controversial caretaker prime minister.
Sir John Major, a former prime minister, spoke for many Conservatives when he argued that “for the overall well-being of the country, Mr Johnson should not remain in Downing Street – when he is unable to command the confidence of the House of Commons – for any longer than necessary to effect the smooth transition of government”.
One possible solution is to appoint Mr Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, as a caretaker prime minister. This option has become more appealing because Mr Raab is seen as impartial after he announced he has no intention to go for the leadership.