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UK’s Johnson agrees to step down, will give statement in coming hours

Beleaguered British PM reportedly will resign party leadership Thursday, after mass cabinet resignations; no obvious successor yet as some call for appointment of interim premier

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on July 6, 2022 (Daniel LEAL / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on July 6, 2022 (Daniel LEAL / AFP)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to resign as leader of the Conservative Party, ending an unprecedented political crisis, British media reported Thursday.

Johnson had rebuffed calls to step down in the wake of multiple scandals, but gave in after more than 50 ministers of various ranks and their Tory MP aides quit his government and told him to go.

An unnamed source from Downing Street told Sky News that Johnson had spoken with the chairman of the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, and agreed that he would resign.

A spokesperson for Downing Street said that Johnson would make a statement later on Thursday.

Johnson’s resignation will trigger a leadership race within his party over the summer.

The winner of that race will assume the role of prime minister. However, there is currently no obvious successor to Johnson and the contest is seen to be wide open at this stage.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a visit to Finchley Memorial Hospital, in North London, on January 18, 2022. (Ian Vogler, Pool Photo via AP)

According to the BBC, the Conservatives plan for a new prime minister to be in place for the party conference, set to be held in October.

However there were some calls for a caretaker prime minister to be appointed rather than Johnson remaining in office until the autumn.

George Freeman, who resigned from his position as science minister earlier on Thursday, tweeted that he did not believe Johnson should remain as prime minister and that a caretaker leader should be appointed.

“Now [Johnson] has finally done the decent thing he needs to hand in the seals of office, apologize to Her Majesty, allow her to appoint a caretaker under whom Ministers can serve, so the Conservative Party can choose a new leader properly,” Freeman tweeted.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News that the party “need[s] a new leader as soon as practicable.”

Britain’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng leaves after attending a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, June 7, 2022 (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also tweeted that she believes it’s “not sustainable” for Johnson to remain prime minister until the autumn.

The reports of the expected resignation emerged amid the continued deluge of resignations from Johnson’s government and after British Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi called on him to resign, just 36 hours after Johnson put him in the job.

Zahawi said Johnson knew “the right thing to do” was to “go now.”

Zahawi was appointed late Tuesday to replace Rishi Sunak, who resigned saying he could no longer support Johnson after a series of ethics scandals.

Nadhim Zahawi, Britain’s Secretary of State for Education, left, with Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Education, leave 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Education Secretary Michelle Donelan, who was also appointed on Tuesday following the resignation of her predecessor, announced her resignation Thursday morning.

Johnson, 58, is known for his knack for wiggling out of tight spots. He has remained in power despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament and was dishonest to the public about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules.

But recent disclosures that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Chris Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker, before he promoted the man to a senior position pushed the prime minister to the brink.

Last week, Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip after complaints he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher — and shifting explanations from the government about what Johnson knew when he tapped him for a senior job enforcing party discipline.

The shock resignations of finance chief Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid late Tuesday after Johnson apologized for appointing Pincher set off a chain of others.

Days of shifting explanations had followed Pincher’s resignation, with Downing Street at first denying Johnson knew of the prior allegations — a defense that collapsed after a former top civil servant said he was told in 2019 about another incident.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Field End Infant school, in South Ruislip, London, on May 6, 2022, following the local government elections. (Daniel Leal/Pool via AP)

Tory critics said the Pincher affair had tipped many over the edge, angry at having to defend what they saw as more lies by Johnson.

Johnson was confronted by members of his cabinet on Wednesday when he returned to Downing Street from a lengthy grilling by a parliamentary committee and the calls for him to go persisted late into the evening.

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