U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation as leader of the Conservative Party on Thursday following a wave of departures from his government, including senior Cabinet members. The party will choose a new leader and the country’s next prime minister in the coming days. In the past week, 59 members of Parliament have resigned from the government, and on Wednesday night, a group of Cabinet members went to 10 Downing Street to urge Johnson to step down. This week’s resignations came as Johnson faced increasing criticism for promoting a member of the Conservative Party who was accused of sexual misconduct. “This was one lie too far,” says Priya Gopal, English professor at the University of Cambridge. Gopal says Johnson’s resignation “was more or less inevitable” and the next prime minister is “likely to be a very serious Brexiteering ideologue.”
AMY GOODMAN: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he is resigning as head of the Conservative Party and will then resign as prime minister once his party elects a successor. He spoke outside 10 Downing Street earlier today.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new prime minister. And I’ve agreed with Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of our backbench MPs, that the process of choosing that new leader should begin now, and the timetable will be announced next week. And I’ve today appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until the new leader is in place.
AMY GOODMAN: In recent days, about 60 officials in Boris Johnson’s government have resigned. On Wednesday night, a group of Cabinet members went to 10 Downing Street to urge Johnson to step down. Despite the calls for him to resign as prime minister immediately, Johnson has begun reassembling a new cabinet to fill the posts left vacant by this flood of resignations.
Boris Johnson, who was a leading supporter of Brexit, has served as prime minister since 2019 and has been embroiled in numerous scandals. This week’s resignations came as Johnson faced criticism for promoting a member of his Conservative Party who was accused of groping two men. On Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesperson admitted Johnson had been briefed in 2019 about the sexual abuse allegations but claimed he had forgotten about the complaints.
One of the first two Cabinet ministers to resign was Health Secretary Sajid Javid. He spoke yesterday about why he stepped down.
SAJID JAVID: I continued to give the benefit of the doubt. And now this week, again, we have reason to question the truth and integrity of what we’ve all been told. And at some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that point is now. … I have concluded that the problem starts at the top, and I believe that is not going to change, and that means that it is for those of us in a position who have responsibility to make that change.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Priya Gopal, English professor at University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.
Professor Gopal, it’s great to have you back. We just heard the speech of the prime minister before we went to air. Especially for a non-British audience, if you can explain what has led to this moment? And what does it mean that while he resigned as head of the Conservative Party, he’s still hanging on to the prime ministership, though so many within his own party are demanding he resign immediately?
PRIYA GOPAL: Yes. As I suggested on your show last time — last time was not a very long time ago — this was more or less inevitable. He had just survived at that time a no-confidence vote. And I suggested then that he was very damaged. And what we see now is that the inevitable has happened.
It’s high farce, at one level, Johnson clinging to power even now, wanting to stay on 'til October and somehow stay in Downing Street. It's farcical at that level, but it’s combined, I think, with an ongoing tragedy for ordinary people in Britain. Johnson’s last few months have been extraordinarily chaotic and complicated, but those actually reflect the wider three years or so in power, which have, I think, been disastrous for ordinary people.
He has, of course, attempted, in a Trump-like way, ’til very late last night, to say that he would not leave, that they would have to wash their hands in blood if they wanted him to leave. And there are people who expect him to continue to produce drama.
But what has led to this moment is that a very damaged Boris Johnson was not able to survive more allegations about things that he knew and had not done anything about. And it just became clear that this was one lie too far, that people even in his own party, who had actually been complicit in keeping him in power, who knew he was prone to lying, who knew about his incompetence, who knew about the chaos, they were complicit, until this week they decided that it was not in their interests to continue to be complicit.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Priya, what do you think is likely to happen now? Who is the front-runner, if there is one, to replace him? I just heard on the BBC this morning that one person who’s considering running, though his prospects appear dim, is Steve Baker, Conservative MP. Who are the others?
PRIYA GOPAL: Yes. I mean, it’s not entirely clear who will be in the running. Suella Braverman, the attorney general, has also said that she intends to throw her hat in the ring. These are, as you just suggested, outliers. We don’t know who amongst the real prospects will be in the running. I think one can assume that some of the names that have been bandied around in recent days — Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, might be in the running. Michael Gove, who actually Johnson, in a very farcical moment, fired last night, he might be in the running. Possibly Nadhim Zahawi, who is currently the chancellor — he’s just been appointed chancellor. So there are various names being bandied around. We don’t know who the front-runner will be.
But I think one thing we do know, that whoever takes over now, on the one hand, will have to come across as more stable and more capable than Johnson, but, on the other hand, is actually likely to be a very serious Brexiteering ideologue and a Conservative ideologue. Johnson is an opportunist. He is somebody who really thinks about his own interests first and takes whatever position is convenient in the short term. Whoever replaces him, there is a very good chance of their being a Brexiteering ideologue with very hard-right views about policy, about the direction of government. And this does not look good in the immediate and medium term for the British people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What about in the event that a general election is called? Do you see any likelihood of a Labour government, a more progressive government coming to power in the wake of the obvious disasters of Boris Johnson’s administration?
PRIYA GOPAL: I don’t think that those are by any means clear-cut. It is not clear to me and to others I know that if there were to be a general election now, Labour would win. In fact, we are in a situation where Labour has yet to provide serious, definite and a kind of clear option for people to vote for. In fact, all we’ve had so far is Keir Starmer, the current Labour leader, insisting that he would continue to keep Brexit in place, that he would in fact, in some sense, keep a hard Brexit in place.
We don’t know what kinds of alternatives the Labour Party proposes in terms of the huge challenges in front of Britain right now — labor shortages, inflation, inequality, you know, widespread hunger, many institutions in disarray, high inflation. These are all problems that are in the immediate, and we don’t, as of now, have a clear plan from Labour as to exactly what they will be setting out in their stall to address this.
So I would by no means be optimistic that if there were a general election, that the Tories would lose. I mean, they will probably lose the very high margin that they had, but if they’re able to convince people that the problem was Johnson and that they can now provide an alternative without Johnson, then they may well come back.
And, of course, the truth is that the problem was not just Johnson, that the Tory project is a very destructive project, that it has been incredibly harmful for Britain to go through a hard Brexit, and there are problems yet to come. And it is by no means clear that whoever comes back or comes after Johnson leaves as the Tory prime minister is going to be providing anything more cheerful or progressive for Britain.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Boris Johnson’s speech just before we broadcast.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: The reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised in 2019. And of course I’m immensely proud of the achievements of this government, from getting Brexit done to settling our relations with the continent for over half a century, reclaiming the power for this country to make its own laws in Parliament, getting us all through the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown, and in the last few months leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can assess, as we wrap up, Professor Gopal, what he has done, from Brexit to Ukraine, and also what this means for Ireland?
PRIYA GOPAL: Well, I mean, he’s certainly been trying to Ukraine-wash himself in the last few months, the last few chaotic months, you know, having photo ops with President Zelensky, suggesting that he is leading the West in its response, which is clearly not exactly the case. It is probably true that the vaccine rollout was in fact very fast and very well done, but everything else raises a lot of questions. Is Brexit done? Relations with the continent, with Europe, are at a historic low, and Britain is in the position of breaking treaties. The Northern Ireland Protocol is in trouble, and Europe has lost faith in Britain’s ability to hold up its end of the bargain.
What does it mean to get Brexit done? A hard Brexit, we are only just starting to see the consequences, and the economic consequences currently have been disastrous. And we are living in a situation with labor shortages, food shortages, as well as a high cost of living. So, if you got Brexit done, then the question is: What have the consequences of that Brexit been so far for the ordinary people of Britain?
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gopal, I want to thank you for being with us, English professor at University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire. The subtitle of that is Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.
Next up, we look at the growing economic crisis in Sri Lanka and across the Global South as nations confront soaring energy and food costs. Stay with us.