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Boris Johnson says he’ll step down when a new Conservative leader is chosen, but his opponents say he should leave sooner. Here’s what you need to know about the Pincher affair, ‘partygate,’ the Gray report and other controversies that led him to this point

British newspaper front pages on July 8 feature news about Prime Minister Boris Johnson's resignation speech the day before.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Johnson resigns: Latest updates

  • Boris Johnson’s opponents stepped up pressure on Friday to have Prime Minister Boris Johnson quit immediately, a day after he said he’d step aside when the governing Conservatives chooses a new leader. That process could take weeks or months as the party whittles down a list of as many as a dozen contenders.
  • Britain’s allies – including Canada, which is negotiating a new free-trade deal – gave assurances after Mr. Johnson’s announcement that relations with Westminster would continue as normal. “Canada and the U.K. have a large, multi-dimensional, mature and durable relationship,” Canadian High Commissioner Ralph Goodale said.
  • Uncertainty about who will lead the world’s fifth-largest economy could put more pressure on a nation already struggling with high inflation rates (9.1 per cent and expected to rise), sluggish growth and the risks of a recession. Analysts are watching closely to see whether a new leader might have better rapport with the European Union on trade policy, or continue the standoffs that defined Mr. Johnson’s tenure.


Why did Boris Johnson quit? How we got here

A demonstrator holds a sign outside 10 Downing St. this past April.TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

‘Partygate’ and the Gray report

Britain’s first COVID-19 lockdowns, like similar measures around the world, forbade many kinds of in-person social gatherings. But from May of 2020 to April of 2021, staff at Mr. Johnson’s Downing Street residence and other government offices held 16 dozen boozy parties that flouted those rules, according to an independent probe of the matter by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

When the allegations, dubbed “Partygate” in the British press, emerged publicly in November of 2021, Mr. Johnson denied he or his people had broken the law, but when London’s police force investigated the claims, they fined 83 people, including Mr. Johnson.

The Gray report, whose final version came out this past May 25, exposed a widespread drinking culture across the British government that didn’t stop for the COVID-19 pandemic: Staff broke lockdown rules to celebrate Mr. Johnson’s birthday, mourn Prince Philip or send off coleagues who were leaving their jobs.

Chris Pincher, the Conservatives' former deputy chief whip.Aaron Chown/PA via AP

The Pincher affair

For some of Mr. Johnson’s last die-hard supporters, the final straw came on July 1, when Chris Pincher, the Conservatives’ deputy chief whip, quit his post after admitting to groping two men while intoxicated.

Mr. Johnson apologized on TV for appointing Mr. Pincher, who had quit another government whip job in 2017 when he faced a complaint for making an unwanted pass at Conservative candidate Alex Story. Mr. Johnson tried to deflect questions about what he knew about the whip’s behaviour and when; Mr. Johnson said he had been told about the past allegations against Mr. Pincher, but forgot.

Mr. Johnson attends his weekly cabinet meeting on June 7, a day after he survived a no-confidence vote.Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP

Confidence votes and cabinet resignations

Partygate fuelled dissent in the Conservative ranks, and on June 6 it came to a vote of no confidence: 211 voted to support Mr. Johnson, and 148 to oust him.

But the Pincher allegations brought the revolt against Mr. Johnson into his inner circle: On the day of his televised apology, the finance and health ministers quit the government on July 5, with some three dozen junior ministers following suit. This is what set the stage for Mr. Johnson’s resignation speech on July 7, in which he accused the party of peer-pressuring each other, and then him, to take this step:

In the last few days, I’ve tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate ... And I regret not to have been successful in those arguments, and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself. But as we’ve seen at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.

A protester holds a placard with photographs of Mr. Johnson, bottom right, his cabinet members and Russian President Vladimir Putin, top left, outside Parliament on July 6.Matt Dunham/The Associated Press

Who might replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, and when?

Mr. Johnson plans to stay on as prime minister until the fall while the party decides who to take his place. In the meantime he’s been filling cabinet posts left vacant by recent resignations; check the U.K. government website for the latest list of ministers.

Possible Conservative leadership candidates

Any candidates who come forward to replace Mr. Johnson must be nominated by two other Conservative MPs, and there are several names already under discussion.

  • Liz Truss: The most recent foreign secretary, Ms. Truss was Mr. Johnson’s point person on Brexit, and last year he named her lead negotiator with the European Union.
  • Jeremy Hunt: After finishing second in the 2019 Conservative leadership race, Mr. Hunt held some top portfolios in Mr. Johnson’s cabinets, including the foreign and health secretary posts.
  • Sajid Javid: A veteran of Conservative cabinets, most recently in the health portfolio, Mr. Javid was the first of Mr. Johnson’s ministers to quit over the Pincher affair. He ran in the 2019 leadership race and finished fourth.
  • Rishi Sunak: As Mr. Johnson’s finance minister, Mr. Sunak was in charge of keeping the British economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also faced criticism for breaking COVID-19 lockdowns (an offence for which he was fined). Like Mr. Javid, he quit cabinet amid the controversy over the Pincher appointment.
  • Ben Wallace: The defence minister, 52, is a former soldier who’s handled some thorny geopolitical files for the Conservatives in recent years, from the evacuation of British nationals and allies from Afghanistan to Britain’s support for the war in Ukraine.
  • Nadhim Zahawi: Mr. Johnson’s most recent finance minister was previously charge of Britain’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, one of the fastest in the developed world. Before entering politics, he was co-founder of polling company YouGov.
  • Penny Moradunt: Currently a junior trade minister, Ms. Moradunt was a Hunt supporter in the 2019 race, and got booted out of the defence portfolio by Mr. Johnson when he came to power.
  • Tom Tugendhat: A regular Johnson critic who served as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Tugendhat has said he’d run in any leadership contest. He has never held a cabinet position before, but is chair of the House foreign affairs committee.
  • Suella Braverman: The Attorney-General has said she plans to run. Ms. Braverman was a junior Brexit minister under prime minister Theresa May but quit because she felt Ms. May’s “soft Brexit” plan didn’t go far enough.
Next steps in the Conservative leadership race

Once a list of candidates takes shape, the parties hold several rounds of secret ballots where the person with the fewest votes is eliminated. The process repeats until only two people are left, and the general membership of the party decides who wins by a postal ballot.

Johnson’s place in history

For more than 20 years, Mr. Johnson has been Britain’s pre-eminent political escape artist, surviving scandals and conflicts within his party that might have ended the careers of other politicians. When he leaves Downing Street, it remains to be seen what he will do next; for now, he leaves a complicated legacy on issues from Brexit to COVID-19. Here’s an overview of his time in power and how it fits into Britain’s recent history.

British prime ministers by days in office

since 1970

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

2022

Boris Johnson

1,079

Theresa May

1,106

David Cameron

2,255

Gordon Brown

1,049

Tony Blair

3,708

John Major

2,347

Margaret Thatcher

4,226

James Callaghan

1,124

Harold Wilson

763

Edward Heath

1,354

Note: Johnson resigned on July 7 but said he

would remain in office until a new prime

minister was chosen.

REUTERS / SOURCE: BRITISH GOVERNMENT

British prime ministers by days in office

since 1970

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

2022

Boris Johnson

1,079

Theresa May

1,106

David Cameron

2,255

Gordon Brown

1,049

Tony Blair

3,708

John Major

2,347

Margaret Thatcher

4,226

James Callaghan

1,124

Harold Wilson

763

Edward Heath

1,354

Note: Johnson resigned on July 7 but said he would

remain in office until a new prime minister was chosen.

REUTERS / SOURCE: BRITISH GOVERNMENT

British prime ministers by days in office since 1970

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2022

Boris Johnson

1,079

Theresa May

1,106

David Cameron

2,255

Gordon Brown

1,049

Tony Blair

3,708

John Major

2,347

Margaret Thatcher

4,226

James Callaghan

1,124

Harold Wilson

763

Edward Heath

1,354

Note: Johnson resigned on July 7 but said he would remain in office until a new prime minister was chosen.

REUTERS / SOURCE: BRITISH GOVERNMENT

2016-2019: Path to Downing Street

After eight years as mayor of London, Mr. Johnson in 2016 became co-leader of the Leave campaign in a national referendum to lead Britain out of the European Union. This pitted him against David Cameron, a fellow Conservative who supported remaining in the bloc; when the Leave side won, Mr. Cameron resigned. The next prime minister, Theresa May, made Mr. Johnson her foreign secretary but he quit in 2018 because Ms. May supported a “soft” Brexit that would keep British and EU trade rules closely aligned, whereas his “hard” Brexit camp wanted a clearer separation. Parliament didn’t get behind Ms. May’s Brexit plan either, so she quit on June. 7, 2019 - three years to the day before Mr. Johnson’s resignation announcement - and Mr. Johnson won the race to replace her.

July 24, 2019: Queen Elizabeth II welcomes Mr. Johnson to Buckingham Palace after his election as Conservative leader.Victoria Jones/Pool via AP

2019-2020: The Brexit battle

When Mr. Johnson took office on July 24, 2019, time was running out to avoid a “no deal” Brexit, a separation from the EU without any free-trade agreement to replace it. His government was in a minority, depending on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to pass legislation, so to prevent opponents of a no-deal scenario from opposing him he decided to prorogue Parliament until mid-October (a move that the Supreme Court later said was unlawful). MPs cobbled together a motion asking the government to seek an extension to Brexit talks, and 21 Conservative MPs broke ranks to support it; they were later expelled from the party. Now with a deadline of Jan. 31, 2020, Mr. Johnson dissolved Parliament and won a majority in December elections; with days to spare before the deadline, Britain and Europe’s parliaments approved his Brexit plan.

Mr. Johnson gets a first dose of AstraZeneca on March 19, 2021.Frank Augstein/The Associated Press

2020-present: COVID-19

Weeks after his government put Britons into their first lockdown on March 23, 2020, Mr. Johnson was one of the first major world leaders to contract the virus, which put him in hospital for more than a week. That experience didn’t deter him or his staff from holding the “Partygate” events noted earlier. When he was fined for attending one of the parties during lockdown, the opposition characterized him as Britain’s first prime minister to have been shown to break the law while in office.

More reading

Commentary

Doug Saunders: A moment of madness brought Boris Johnson to power, but his clownish contempt lost its appeal

Tom Rachman: Conservatives realize Boris Johnson might not be so great after all

From the archives: Paul Waldie on recent U.K. politics

By-election losses and resignation of party co-chair renew questions over Boris Johnson’s leadership

British PM Boris Johnson faces calls to resign after he apologizes for attending party during COVID-19 lockdown

British PM Boris Johnson says he takes ‘full responsibility’ after damning final report into ‘partygate’ scandal


Compiled by Globe staff

Reuters and Associated Press, with reports from Paul Waldie


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