Bye, bye Boris: UK prime minister's last moments

Boris Johnson is determined to stay in Downing Street until a replacement is found

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For six minutes and 12 seconds Boris Johnson had international attention as he pushed through his resignation speech, despite the derisory shouts from beyond the Downing Street gates and a boombox that kept playing “Bye, bye Boris, Boris bye, bye”.

At times the imitation Bay City Rollers song managed to drown out the loudspeakers erected by Downing Street, making Mr Johnson’s words difficult to hear.

But both messages were clear. Less than three years into the job, Mr Johnson was finally on his way out.

A well-trodden phrase is that all political careers end in failure. The current prime minister’s certainly did that, unravelling spectacularly.

It was “painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself,” Mr Johnson said. He had attempted to stay in office but it was the “herd instinct” of Westminster politics that ousted him.

In front of him was a rich cosmopolitan mix of the world’s journalists. From the BBC to CNN, to Iranian television and the Japanese press. A Ukrainian journalist delivered her piece to camera alongside a Russian television presenter, both sides with a strong interest in the British prime minister’s departure; one sad, the other tacitly enjoying the moment.

There were no tears from the prime minister and only mild regret was discernible, displaying the trait for not fully accepting responsibility for his actions that in the end undid him and led to three extraordinary days in British politics.

Mr Johnson’s resilience and denial allowed him to dismiss the bombshells; his chancellor and health secretary resigning on Tuesday evening, more than 30 government resignations on Wednesday, and a further deluge of quitting early on Thursday morning.

Members of the public stand outside the gates of Downing Street as Prime Minister Boris Johnson reads his resignation statement. PA

He also ignored a delegation of cabinet colleagues urging him to go on Wednesday night, leaving the Tory party baffled, bewildered and angry.

Despite Conservatives and Conservative-supporting newspapers uniting in their desire to remove him, he refused to budge. But then at 7.46am on Thursday it became apparent by the single ticks denoting unread messages on his WhatsApp account that he was no longer monitoring his phone.

The resignations continued to steadily mount until shortly after 9am when Downing Street told the BBC that his resignation would be forthcoming.

The press gathering outside number 10 grew throughout the morning until shortly before 12.30pm a podium appeared, followed by Mr Johnson, who was applauded by his remaining loyalists. His words were defiant, unrepentant and laced with self-pity.

That will not endear him to those MPs stating Mr Johnson is unfit for office and needs to be immediately replaced with an interim prime minister, potentially his deputy, Dominic Raab.

Former prime minister John Major wrote that it was “unwise” and “unsustainable” for Mr Johnson to stay. “For the overall well-being of the country, Mr Johnson should not remain in Downing Street,” he said.

That could be expedited when the timetable for the next election is announced in the coming days by the 1922 Committee, which sets Conservative Party rules.

As a guide, former prime minister Theresa May announced she would step down on May 24, 2019 and Mr Johnson was elected two months later as Conservative leader on July 23.

Given that many MPs are deeply unhappy with Mr Johnson continuing in office for any longer than he has to, the 1922 Committee might speed up the process to find a new leader.

Theresa May announces her resignation as Prime Minister in May 2019. Getty Images

Candidates will need at least eight fellow Conservative MPs to sign their application to make it on to the shortlist. In the first round of voting by all 358 Conservative MPs, those who secure less than 18 votes are eliminated, then a second round will eliminate those with fewer than 36 votes.

The process continues until there are just two candidates left.

In 2019 the ballots took place over seven days. In the final round, Mr Johnson received 160 votes and Jeremy Hunt secured 77, narrowly beating Michael Gove by two votes.

Five weeks later the Tory membership had submitted their votes by postal ballot and Mr Johnson triumphed by 92,000 votes to Mr Hunt’s 46,000.

This time Mr Johnson will be on the sidelines, though he could still try to use his influence in the search for a successor. He will also attempt to run the government, with its hastily assembled cabinet that is still missing dozens of ministerial posts left vacant by resignations.

Both might be beyond the man, who until eight months ago had seemed untouchable as Britain’s leader.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 4:29 PM
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