No doubts remained that Boris Johnson’s future as the British prime minister was in severe jeopardy late on Tuesday after a pair of senior Cabinet ministers quit the government, saying their positions were no longer sustainable.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s resignation swiftly followed that of Health Secretary Sajid Javid in what will be seen as an all but fatal blow to Mr Johnson’s leadership.
It is understood more Cabinet resignation are set to follow after weeks of turmoil for Mr Johnson following the partygate lockdown scandal and the vote of no confidence on June 6.
The resignations took Westminster by surprise after it appeared that Mr Johnson could survive in office until at least after the summer recess.
The race to succeed Mr Johnson will begin imminently, with Jeremy Hunt, Tom Tugendhat and potentially Liz Truss as the early front-runners
Tory MPs will vote for the top two candidates who will then be put forward to a poll of the estimated 200,000 Conservative Party members. The election process takes about six seeks.
The chancellor is the most important government post after the prime minister and his quitting will prove highly difficult to survive for Mr Johnson.
In his resignation letter, Mr Sunak stated that “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously” and added: “I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
It is possible his early resignation could work in Mr Sunak’s favour to run as party leader, although there are suggestions he might now also resign as an MP and pursue business interests in California.
Mr Javid’s letter was more condemnatory. In a devastating reference to the vote of confidence in which 148 Conservative MPs voted against the prime minister, with 211 for, he stated that he no longer had confidence in Mr Johnson as Conservative Party leader.
“I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership — and you have therefore lost my confidence, too.”
The final issue that led to Mr Sunak’s and Mr Javid’s quitting the government appeared to be the dissembling over the Chris Pincher affair. The former deputy chief whip resigned from government on Thursday following allegations that he drunkenly groped two men.
Downing Street had original stated that Mr Johnson was unaware of inappropriate behaviour by the MP — a close associate of his — when he appointed him to the ministerial post in February.
But the story began to change with Mr Johnson eventually being forced to admit that he did not recall a formal complaint concerning Mr Pincher that was upheld.
The apparent dissembling was exposed by the former head of the diplomat service, Lord Simon MacDonald, who claimed on Tuesday morning that Mr Johnson was aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Pincher.
The former Foreign Office permanent secretary accused Downing Street of “telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time” during a primetime interview on BBC radio.
A few minutes later, the Cabinet assembled in Downing Street, where Mr Johnson carried on as normal, arguing for policies to tackle the cost of living crisis.
But official pictures from the opening moments of the meeting demonstrably showed some ministers had reached the end of their tether in serving under a prime minister who reportedly has “issues with the truth”.
By being in the first tranche to resign, Mr Sunak, who was once the front-runner to replace Mr Johnson before issues emerged over his wife’s taxation status, retains some honour and has an outside chance of replacing the incumbent.
Given Mr Sunak's and Mr Javid's resignations, that replacement is certainly imminent.
It is possible that Mr Johnson will resign in the coming days, however he has been known to defy political gravity and might still attempt to be the first prime minister to push through such extraordinary adversity.
But further attacks came from the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who told journalists in Westminster that it was “in the national interest” for the rest of the Cabinet to make Mr Johnson to resign.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey has tweeted that the prime minister should “go and go now”.
Former chief whip Mark Harper tweeted: “Tonight we have seen leadership from Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid. Honourable decisions made by honourable men. The Conservative Party still has so much to offer to our country. It’s time for a fresh start.”
It had been thought that Mr Johnson’s moment of greatest peril lay in next Wednesday’s election for the 1922 Committee, which governs internal Conservative affairs, with rebel MPs changing the rules so there could be a second confidence vote in a year.
But that is likely to prove irrelevant following Tuesday night’s resignations.