WHAT THE HELL HAVE THEY DONE?
With a consoling hug from Carrie and Wilf, Boris is cast out by a party in the grip of collective hysteria. Keir Starmer is cock-a-hoop. Corks are popping in Brussels — and Moscow. And the Tories don’t have a clue who should replace him
TORY MPs were last night warned they will ‘rue the day’ they forced Boris Johnson out.
After days of pressure from embittered foes and ambitious rivals, the Prime Minister yesterday announced he was standing down as party leader.
His departure fired the starting gun for a two-month race to be the next PM, with a string of political minnows suggesting they would
join the crowded contest. In a heartfelt speech outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson paid tribute to the 14million voters who gave him an ‘incredible mandate’.
As his wife Carrie looked on, surrounded by loyal staff and ministers, he only hinted at his frustration, saying that the ‘herd instinct’ of panicking Conservative MPs had led them to make an ‘eccentric’ decision. ‘Of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself,’ he admitted. ‘But as we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.’
But privately allies were furious – and warned that the Tory party may have just thrown away the next election, paving the way for a chaotic coalition led by Sir Keir Starmer, Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Davey. One loyal Cabinet minister described the regicide as ‘the biggest act of selfharm in recent political times’.
Another ally said the Tory party had been gripped by the periodic ‘mania’ that led to the betrayal of Margaret Thatcher three decades ago. The source added: ‘It’s been like a Salem witch-hunt or when a hysteria sweeps through a girls’ school.’
There were also fears Britain could be left with a ‘zombie government’ in the midst of a cost of living squeeze. Mr Johnson was yesterday forced to appoint a ‘compromise Cabinet’ as the price for staying on as caretaker leader.
Diehard Remainers like Theresa May’s former business secretary Greg Clark were brought back into government. The PM told the Cabinet he would ‘ not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction’ in his remaining weeks in office.
And he said that decisions on tax cuts ‘should be left for the next prime minister’, dashing hopes of short-term help for struggling families.
A decision on whether to press ahead with the new Sizewell C nuclear power station was postponed yesterday. And ministers fear that key legislation, including measures to fix the post-Brexit problems in Northern Ireland, could now get bogged down for months.
The warnings came as:
■ Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ‘saddened’ by the departure of Mr Johnson, who he hailed as a ‘hero’;
■ Foreign Secretary Liz Truss cut short a trip to Indonesia to fly back to the UK, where she is expected to launch a leadership bid pitching herself as a low-tax Tory who can hold Mr Johnson’s electoral coalition together;
■ Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi faced a backlash from some Tory MPs after revealing he had privately told the PM to quit just 12 hours after publicly calling for him to stay;
■ In the first of what could be
‘Not a successful chancellor’
blue- on-blue attacks this summer, Jacob Rees-Mogg savaged Rishi Sunak, saying he was ‘not a successful chancellor, he was a high-tax chancellor’;
■ Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was consulting his family about a leadership challenge after polls named him as the favourite among Tory activists;
■ Former Army officer Tom Tugendhat will run and was emerging as the leading candidate of the Tory Remainers;
■ A poll found that Mr Sunak was best placed to beat Labour, as he prepared to launch his own party leadership bid;
■ Labour threatened to hold a formal vote of no confidence next week which could trigger a quick general election;
■ A smirking Sir Keir was spotted at Wimbledon as Labour officials celebrated the Tories’ self-destructive removal of the man who repeatedly beat them at the polls;
■ Vladimir Putin celebrated the departure of an implacable opponent, with the Kremlin saying Mr Johnson had been ‘hit by a boomerang launched by himself’;
■ Attorney general Suella Braverman stayed in her Cabinet job despite calling on the PM to quit and announcing her leadership bid before he resigned;
■ Sir John Major launched a bitter attack on the PM, calling on Tory MPs to kick him out of Downing Street immediately;
■ Senior Tories were finalising the rules for a formal Tory leadership contest, which is expected to start next week and produce a new leader by the start of September.
Yesterday started with a string of further ministerial resignations designed to force the Prime Minister out of No 10.
Former ally Brandon Lewis quit his post as Northern Ireland secretary, telling the Prime Minister the Government required ‘ honesty, integrity and mutual respect’ and was ‘now past the point of no return’. Michelle Donelan resigned as education secretary after just 36 hours in the job, telling the PM there was ‘no way you can remain in post’.
By 8am seven ministers had quit and Mr Zahawi, who was appointed only on Tuesday night, had told Mr Johnson to go.
He claimed he was ‘heartbroken’ that the PM ‘hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this Government at this late hour’.
While his critics made wild claims likening him to Donald Trump, inside No 10 the PM and his allies had already concluded that the game was up.
‘In the end the boss was left with no alternative but to fold the tent,’ one ally said. Mr Johnson used his resignation speech to underline his achievements in delivering Brexit, tackling Covid and standing up for Ukraine.
He pledged to help his successor deliver on key priorities such as levelling up.
But he took a swipe at his colleagues for their ‘eccentric’ decimany
sion to oust him half way through the parliamentary term.
And he hit out at Westminster’s corrosive leaking culture, saying that by the end the only people he could trust not to disclose information were his own police protection officers.
Mr Johnson’s downfall followed a furious reaction to his handling of the case of disgraced former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
Mr Pincher quit last week over allegations that he groped two men during a drunken night out at the Carlton Club in London.
The PM apologised this week for appointing Mr Pincher, despite having been warned previously about his ‘predatory’ behaviour.
But the revelations – and Downing Street’s initial claims that the PM had not been aware of claims about the Tamworth MP’s behaviour – was the final straw for mutinous MPs already angry over Par
‘Past the point of no return’
tygate. Even some allies were dismayed that the man who delivered Brexit and saved Britain from Jeremy Corbyn had fallen victim to so many selfinflicted wounds.
One minister close to Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m angry with him. He could have done anything when we won an 80 seat majority – but he’s blown it.’
But some MPs warned that the removal of the PM would wreck the Tories’ hopes of winning the next election.
Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope said: ‘The country will rue this day.’
Morley MP Andrea Jenkyns, who remonstrated with Left-wing protesters trying to shout down the PM as he made his speech, said of her colleagues: ‘They will regret it like they did with Thatcher. It will be the same.’
Senior Labour figures were jubilant at the prospect of Mr Johnson being forced out, believing it would increase Sir Keir’s chance of winning the next election.
One member of the Shadow Cabinet said: ‘I’m amazed to see all these Red Wall MPs coming out against him.
‘Everything we see is that he is their best bet of holding on to those seats. Now it may be a different story in the Lib Dem-facing seats in the South, but Boris going makes the Red Wall easier for us.’
Mr Johnson faced initial calls to quit No 10 immediately, with some Tory MPs arguing he should be replaced by a caretaker leader while the party picks a new leader. But the mood calmed after Mr Johnson succeeded in appointing a Cabinet drawn from all wings of the party.
Last night the children’s minister Will Quince, who quit in protest over Mr Pincher on Wednesday, agreed to return to the Government.
The 1922 Committee of Tory MPs will meet on Monday to finalise the rules for the contest.
A source said hustings at Westminster could start as soon as Tuesday. MPs will then hold a series of votes to whittle down what is expected to be a large field to just two candidates before parliament rises on July 21.
The two names will then go forward for a run-off decided by Tory party members next month, with a new leader likely to be named by the first week of September.