Has there ever been a crazier political panto? A bad day for Boris

Has there ever been a crazier political panto? With 42 resignations and counting, Rishi Sunak’s mega-rich wife serving tea and biccies, and one Tory MP branding the PM ‘a cockroach in a nuclear apocalypse’… it was a bad day for Boris

  • Boris Johnson faced dramatic calls to resign from a long line of cabinet ministers
  • The trickle of ten resignations overnight became a stream with 32 quitting today
  • Michael Gove – Johnson’s rival in the 2016 leadership bid – told him he should go
  • Here, we chart one of the most extraordinary days Westminster has ever seen

Boris Johnson was typically bullish when he woke up this morning. 

He had faced dramatic calls to resign from two of his most important Cabinet ministers the night before – but was unperturbed. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he told friends. 

‘I’m going to smash on and deliver for the people who gave us a massive mandate. 

‘Everyone just needs to calm down, stop bickering and let us get on with the job in hand.’ 

But even as Mr Johnson’s newly minted Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was taking to the airwaves to defend him, fellow ministers and aides were typing up their resignation letters. 

The trickle – ten overnight – was to become a stream, then a flood, with an additional and unprecedented 32 members of the government quitting today. 

It was always going to be one of the most bruising and difficult days of his political career. 

The day started with Nadhim Zahawai on Radio 4 in an effort to shore up Johnson’s leadership

Mr Johnson knew he had Prime Minister’s Questions to get through, as well as a meeting of the liaison committee, where he would face tough questioning from senior backbench MPs. 

But that was only the beginning. As well as the resignations – including five ministers who quit together in an astonishing joint letter – it emerged surviving Cabinet members were visiting Mr Johnson to warn him the game was up. 

Michael Gove, who had been a conspicuous absence at Prime Minister’s Questions, was the first to make his move. 

The Mail+ reported at just before 2.30pm that the Levelling Up Secretary – Mr Johnson’s nemesis in his failed 2016 bid for the Tory leadership – had told the PM bluntly: ‘It’s time to go.’ 

The revelation electrified Westminster – and yet still the Prime Minister clung on. 

Tonight the PM exacted retribution on Mr Gove and sacked him. In a sensational development, a No10 source explained: ‘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. You cannot operate like that.’ 

Here Daniel Martin, Policy Editor, charts one of the most extraordinary days Westminster has ever seen…


Mr Zahawi is preparing to go on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in a bid to shore up support for his beleaguered leader. He had been appointed by Boris Johnson less than 12 hours earlier to replace Rishi Sunak as Chancellor. Just minutes before Nick Robinson begins the interview in the key 8.10am slot, the first resignation of the day is announced. 

Laura Trott writes on Facebook that she is quitting as aide to Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary. She says: ‘Trust in politics is – and must always be – of the utmost importance, but sadly in recent months this has been lost.’ 

While Mr Zahawi’s interview is still on-going, another resignation lands. Children’s minister Will Quince, who went out on TV on Monday to defend the PM over the Chris Pincher affair, says he is angry the assurances given to him by No10 – and the lines to take – over Mr Johnson’s conduct had turned out to be wrong. 

Children’s minister Will Quince says he is angry the assurances given to him by No10 over Mr Johnson’s conduct had turned out to be wrong

Confronted live on air, the new Chancellor is wrong-footed but says he is ‘sorry to see’ them go. In an excruciating encounter, Mr Zahawi has little to say but: ‘All I would say to colleagues is people don’t vote for divided teams. We have to come together.


In west London, Sajid Javid refuses to take questions as he leaves home hours after his bombshell resignation as health secretary. He tells waiting journalists: ‘Morning, thanks for coming. It is good to see you.’ He is keeping his powder dry for a brutal resignation speech in the Commons later.


Another minister quits. Robin Walker resigns as schools minister, saying he no longer has any faith in the PM’s leadership. In his letter, he says the government has been ‘overshadowed by mistakes and questions about integrity’.


Mr Gove goes to see the PM in his den on the ground floor at No10. Mr Gove has knifed his old friend and rival before and does not want to be seen doing so publicly again. He warns the PM his position is ‘no longer sustainable’, telling him: ‘The party will move to get rid of you’. He urges him: ‘It is better to go on your own terms.’ 

At the end of the amicable five-minute conversation, Mr Johnson tells Mr Gove: ‘Thank you, but I am going to fight on.’ The pair then go down the corridor to the Cabinet Room, where Mr Gove helps Mr Johnson to prepare for Prime Minister’s Questions. 

Late tonight, the payback is lethal. No10 accuses him of leaking details of the conversation – and Mr Gove is out.

Michael Gove warns the PM his position is ‘no longer sustainable’, telling him: ‘The party will move to get rid of you’


Previously loyal backbenchers start to turn against the PM. Rob Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee and seen as a voice of blue collar Tories, says he favours a change in leadership. 

‘Not only has there been a real loss of integrity, there has been a failure of policy,’ he says. 

Even more damagingly, Red Wall MP Lee Anderson says he can no longer back Mr Johnson – despite having barely said a word against him since he was elected in 2019. The MP for Ashfield says: ‘Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days.’ 

Former universities minister Chris Skidmore also calls on the PM to fall on his sword. He says his handling of the Pincher scandal was ‘tantamount to the cover-up of sexual abuse’.


John Glen – Mr Sunak’s deputy at the Treasury – resigns, saying he has a ‘complete lack of confidence’ in Mr Johnson’s leadership. 

And Felicity Buchan – an aide to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – quits, saying the PM’s position is ‘untenable’. 

Another previously loyal backbencher Tom Hunt, turns on Mr Johnson, saying: ‘Events of the past week have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back.’ 


Now it is the turn of Justice Minister Victoria Atkins to hand in her notice. She says ‘integrity, decency, respect and professionalism’ should matter in public life

Boris Johnson arrives  looking subdued for today’s PMQs – where he faced a bruising round of calls to step down – including from his own MPs


As Boris Johnson arrives in the Commons for PMQs to a subdued welcome, another minister – Jo Churchill from the environment department – departs, with a sideswipe at the PM’s ‘jocular, self-serving’ approach to leadership.

Mr Gove is an absentee. He is spotted in New Palace Yard within the Palace of Westminster estate just before Mr Johnson faces the Chamber. He is on the phone – but who is on the other end? 

Inside Westminster, Sir Keir Starmer dismisses Tory ministers who have not resigned as leading the ‘charge of the lightweight brigade’, branding them a ‘Z-list of nodding dogs’. 


It gets worse for the PM as Tory backbenchers in the Commons give vent to their frustrations. 

Gary Sambrook, a Red Wall MP elected in 2019, lays into the PM for having blamed other Tory MPs for not stopping Chris Pincher earlier when he was drinking too much last week at the Carlton Club. 

He says: ‘Isn’t it that the Prime Minister constantly tries to deflect from the issue, always tries to blame other people for mistakes, and that there is nothing left for him to do other than to take responsibility and resign?’ 

Even more woundingly, Burton MP Kate Griffiths, who was raped by her former MP husband, tells the PM she is ‘furious’ over his decision to appoint Chris Pincher and is withdrawing her support. 

Another critic, former minister Tim Loughton, pointedly asks the PM if there were any circumstances in which he would resign. 

Mr Johnson replies: ‘The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when he has been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going and that’s what I’m going to do.’ 

Responding to a Labour MP, Mr Johnson says: ‘Hang on in there – that’s what I’m going to do.’ 

Kemi Badenoch, Julia Lopez, Lee Rowley, Alex Burghart and Neil O’Brien write in a joint letter: ‘We must ask that, for the good of the party and the country, you step aside.’


And now Mr Javid comes to make a personal statement about his resignation. 

Mr Johnson is forced to listen in stony silence – staring down at his feet – as his former Health Secretary tells him: ‘Enough is enough.’ 

Mr Javid’s delivery may have faltered, but his words are dynamite – echoing the famous resignation speech made by Geoffrey Howe in 1990 which prompted Margaret Thatcher’s resignation days later. 

He says: ‘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.’ 

Putting pressure on other ministers to go, he adds: ‘I wish my Cabinet colleagues well and I can see they have decided to remain in the Cabinet. But let’s be clear, not doing something is an active decision.’ 

As soon as Mr Javid finishes, the PM hastily leaves the Chamber, without a look at his MPs. There are cries of ‘Bye, Boris!’ 


Gloomy Tory MPs predict Mr Johnson will not go down without a fight. One says: ‘He’s like a cockroach in a nuclear apocalypse.’ 


And still the resignations keep on coming. As Mr Javid stood up in the Commons, housing minister Stuart Andrew announces on Twitter that he is quitting, saying Conservatives should not have to go out to ‘defend the indefensible’. 

Treasury aide Claire Coutinho and education aide David Johnston say they are going. And environment aide Selaine Saxby says she has to go because ‘trust, truth and integrity’ are vital in politics. 

Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick puts in a letter of no confidence, saying the PM is failing to provide ‘grip and direction’. 


The resignations flood in. Kemi Badenoch, Julia Lopez, Lee Rowley, Alex Burghart and Neil O’Brien write in a joint letter: ‘We must ask that, for the good of the party and the country, you step aside.’ 

They are followed by employment minister Mims Davies. 

By this time, more than 30 ministers have resigned since Tuesday night, raising huge doubts over whether Mr Johnson will even be able to find the MPs to replace them in government. 


As The Mail+ publishes its exclusive story about Mr Gove, there is strong speculation Chris Heaton-Harris, the Chief Whip, has also come to the same view. It is said he has concluded that there was no way the PM could survive after a string of Cabinet ministers warned they were ready to quit. 


In one of the most surreal parts of the day, Mr Johnson is questioned by MPs at a meeting of the Commons liaison committee. 

He is asked about issues such as Ukraine, fertiliser and what he would do about fuel duty in 2030. 

Yet he seems in denial about the odds stacked against him, laughing and joking with MPs. At one point he proclaims his week so far to be ‘terrific’. 


Mr Sunak has been absent from the public glare all day, but journalists are camped outside his house. His wife Akshata Murty comes out to present tea and biscuits to those waiting outside – described by one of the reporters as ‘very good tea’ – but there is no sign of the former Chancellor. 


Back on the liaison committee, Tory MP Huw Merriman is questioning the PM about mundane aspects of transport policy. At the same time, Mr Merriman publishes a letter on Twitter in which he explains he has lost confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership. 


And still they keep coming as Mr Johnson is being questioned. There are further resignations from Mr Sunak’s aide Craig Williams, safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean, equalities minister Mike Freer, who accuses the government of creating an ‘atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people’. 

Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty comes out to present tea and biscuits to those waiting outside – described by one of the reporters as ‘very good tea’ – but there is no sign of the former Chancellor


While Mr Johnson is still giving evidence to the liaison committee, it emerges a delegation of Cabinet ministers is set to go to Downing Street to persuade him to throw in the towel. They include new Chancellor Mr Zahawi, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is held up thanks to flight delays. The PM learns about the delegation live on camera. 


The PM ends the two-hour meeting in defiant mood, telling MPs: ‘I’m not going to step down.’ 


A meeting of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 committee’s executive breaks up, deferring the decision on whether to change the rules to allow another Tory leadership election. 


Mr Johnson arrives in Downing Street via a back entrance. Inside are the ministers waiting to deliver their warning message. 


Mr Johnson fits in his weekly audience with the Queen and sends a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, knocking back her plea to be allowed another independence referendum.

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