Boris Johnson sacks Michael Gove but defies pressure to leave: 'No, I will not go'

British prime minister to launch a new economic plan and says he will fight to the end

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Wednesday night resisting pressure to step down despite a parade of Cabinet colleagues telling him the party wanted him out.

Mr Johnson, 58, told his closest supporters that dozens of resignations ― including the late-night departure of a third Cabinet member, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, and announcement of a leadership challenge from his attorney general ― from his government would not lead to him quitting and that it was a choice between a summer focused on economic growth or the chaos of a leadership contest.

He then dismissed the veteran Cabinet minister Michael Gove and announced a new reshuffle.

By succumbing to pressure, he also predicted a new leader would be forced to call a general election.

Allies said Mr Johnson would "fight on" and launch new economic policies within days.

The Labour Party was considering a motion of no confidence in the House of Commons on Thursday to push the Conservative party rebels and test the government's majority.

Mr Gove, who, like Mr Johnson is a former newspaper columnist, teamed up with the prime minister to campaign for Brexit in the referendum.

He was sacked by Theresa May when she took power after the shock result but returned to the front line in the Johnson team in 2019.

Mr Gove was appointed education secretary in 2010 when the coalition took over from Labour.

The BBC reported a Downing Street source who said the sacking of Mr Gove was a purge of those who were disloyal.

“You cannot have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully briefs the press that he has called for the leader to go," the official was quoted as saying.

“You cannot operate like that.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to Michael Gove, who was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the time, in London in November 2019. Reuters

Attorney General Suella Braverman later joined the calls for the prime minister to quit as she launched a bid to replace him.

Previously a Johnson loyalist, she told ITV that he had handled matters “appallingly” in recent days and that “the balance has tipped now in favour of saying that the prime minister ― it pains me to say it ― but it’s time to go”.

Ms Braverman said it was her duty to continue in her current role, but said: “If there is a leadership contest, I will put my name into the ring.”

Mr Hart quit on Wednesday night, following in the footsteps of former Cabinet colleagues Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid ― who departed a day earlier.

In his resignation letter, Mr Hart said that he wanted to help Mr Johnson “turn the ship around”, but “we have passed the point where this is possible”.

As rumours swirled earlier in the day, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart were among the Cabinet ministers telling Mr Johnson to stand down.

Resignations were rumoured around Westminster in tandem with the reshuffle news.

Ms Patel spoke to Mr Johnson to convey the “overwhelming view” of the parliamentary party, code for saying that he did not have enough support.

Reports even suggested that Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer only on Tuesday, was among those taking part in the showdown with Mr Johnson.

Leaving the confrontation in Downing Street, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said ministers were still backing Mr Johnson.

Nadine Dorries, the UK Culture Secretary who is among those urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fight on, leaves Downing Street in London on Wednesday. Bloomberg

Asked as she left Downing Street, if she still supported Mr Johnson, she said: “Definitely." And asked if others were backing him, Ms Dorries replied: “Oh yes."

Greg Hands, a junior minister with responsibility for energy, said Mr Johnson would not quit until most of the Cabinet had stepped down.

"I think the majority of the government has not resigned, the majority of government is carrying on and we will have to see what happens at the top, yeah," Mr Hands said.

Asked how he could continue to serve in a government hit by scandal, he said: "Because I have got a job to do, to deliver on energy and climate change, and that's exactly what I am going to be carrying on doing."

Throughout the day, Mr Johnson gave a spirited defence of his position on the floor of parliament on Wednesday after losing dozens more colleagues, including Sajid Javid, the health secretary, and chancellor Rishi Sunak.

By Wednesday night the tally of those bailing out had reached 42.

“This week again, we have reason to question the truth and integrity of what we've all been told and that at some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” Mr Javid said. “I believe that point is now.”

The UK leader had already replaced Mr Sunak with Mr Zahawi and vowed to fight on despite being assailed by a set of ministerial departures.

Enough is enough

In a particularly brutal swipe, Mr Javid accused Mr Johnson of sending ministers out to publicly lie for him.

“I also believe a team is as good as its team captain and a captain is as good as his or her team,” he said.

“It’s not fair on ministerial colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t stand up and don’t hold up.”

Mr Javid suggested he had been disturbed by what was going in Number 10 in recent months.

“Effective governance inevitably requires loyalty and collective responsibility, of course it does, and I am instinctively a team player and I have completely focused on governing effectively over the last year,” he said.

“But treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.”

Conservative MP David Simmonds said the prime minister should go because the “message has been very clear from colleagues”.

On a backbench 1922 Committee meeting, Mr Simmonds said there was near unanimity.

“There was one person I can think of [who thought he should stay] but other than that, no. I think it was a pretty strong view across the piece.”

He said there were quite a few “good candidates” to replace Mr Johnson as leader.

Updated: July 08, 2022, 6:18 AM
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