London (AFP) – Boris Johnson resigned as Conservative Party leader on Thursday, the BBC reported, paving the way for a successor to become British prime minister.
“Boris Johnson resigned as Conservative leader today – he will remain as prime minister until the autumn,” said BBC politics editor Chris Mason, adding that the Tory leadership contest will take place this summer and the winner will replace Johnson by October.
A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister would “make a statement to the country today”.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer said it was “good news” that Johnson was stepping down but said a “proper change of government” was needed.
Johnson clung to power despite waves of more than 50 government resignations.
But the departure of Education Minister Michelle Donelan on Thursday and the resignation of Finance Minister Nadhim Zahawi left their jobs in the balance for just two days.
Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis stepped down on Thursday to become the fourth cabinet minister to resign, setting off a flurry of events.
The Conservative leader late on Wednesday responded negatively to calls by his loyalists and cabinet colleagues for minister and former senior ally Michael Cove to step down.
The social secretary is said to have first told him that he should resign for the good of the Tory party and the country, with a person close to Johnson telling the BBC that Gove was “a snake”.
The Sun newspaper reported that Johnson had told colleagues they would have “(their) hands in blood” to get him out of office.
Will Walton, Johnson’s director of communications when he was mayor of London, said the prime minister “won’t change and he won’t either”.
“He’s not sorry. He won’t. And he won’t resign. At least not if he can help it,” he wrote in The Times.
But Thursday’s events seem to have forced his hand.
– ‘No functioning government’ –
The shock resignations of finance chief Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid late on Tuesday set off a chain of others.
They left after senior Conservative MP Chris Fincher apologized for being appointed as senior Conservative MP Johnson, who was forced to resign following allegations he caught two people drunk.
After Fincher’s resignation, several days of alternating explanations were given.
Downing Street initially denied that Johnson was aware of the previous allegations, but the defense collapsed after a former senior civil servant told Johnson about another incident in 2019.
Tory critics said the Pincher affair had drawn many to the brink of anger at having to defend what they saw as Johnson’s lies.
Johnson was confronted by members of his cabinet as he returned to Downing Street from a lengthy grilling by the parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
The group reportedly includes hardline Home Minister Priti Patel.
Camilla Cavendish, the former head of Downing Street’s policy division, told the BBC that Britain no longer had a “working government” and calls for Johnson to go continued into the evening.
Attorney-General Suella Braverman told ITV that she would not be resigning, saying “it is now in favor of a reserve term… it’s time to go”.
He also said that he is standing in the leadership race.
A culture of corruption has dogged Johnson for months, including lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister, who received a police fine over the Covid lockdown-breaking “partygate” affair, faces a parliamentary inquiry into whether she lied to MPs about her revelations.
Johnson survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative MPs a month ago, which would normally have meant he could not be challenged for another year.
But an influential “1922 committee” of non-ministerial Tory MPs is said to be seeking to change the rules, with its executive committee announced on Wednesday and electing new members next week.
In parliament on Wednesday, Johnson insisted the country needed “stable government”.
But speaking to MPs, Javid urged other ministers to resign.
“The problem starts at the top, and I believe that’s not going to change,” he said quietly in the House of Commons.
A cry of “Bye, Boris” echoed around the room at the end of his speech.