Mayday! Government meltdown as Boris quits

Missing: Johnson was absent from a meeting about a British woman killed by Novichok. © Getty

Will Theresa May survive? The prime minister faces the most perilous week of her premiership after Boris Johnson’s shock resignation yesterday. Could this finally be the end?

Theresa May’s government has been plunged into crisis following Boris Johnson’s resignation as foreign secretary.

He became the second senior cabinet minister to quit after Brexit Secretary David Davis’s exit on Sunday night.

The PM expected the weekend’s cabinet meeting at Chequers to be her government’s great unifying moment as they hammered out a compromise for Britain’s plans to leave the EU. It has turned into a disaster.

Battling to contain the political fallout from Davis’s resignation, Theresa May quickly appointed Dominic Raab, a Brexiteer, as the new Brexit secretary.

But Johnson was unconvinced. Shortly before May addressed Parliament about her new Brexit plan, Downing Street announced his departure. Jeremy Hunt has replaced him.

Johnson’s letter of resignation was devastating: “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope… That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.” He added: “It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them.”

May could have dealt with Davis or Johnson resigning. But the fact that both have gone has turned, according to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, an “embarrassing and difficult situation for the PM into potentially a full-blown crisis”.

Speculation is rife that a Tory Party leadership election is beckoning. Following his resignation, Boris Johnson’s odds of becoming the next PM shortened from 14/1 to 4/1.

May still insists that nothing has changed. But a final showdown between the hard Brexiteers and the soft Brexiteers has never looked more likely.

Yesterday, the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs met to discuss May’s future. They would only need 48 names to trigger a vote of no confidence in May, thereby causing a leadership election.

That process could then take three months — and it is almost exactly three months until the next summit with the EU.

The stakes have never been higher. Will May hold on?

May not last the week

No way, say some. If May was vulnerable before all this, her position is completely untenable now. She faces two options: drop her Chequers plan or see more ministers resign. She is too stubborn to backtrack and the crisis will deepen. She is thoroughly disliked by both Leavers and Remainers. This, finally, is the end.

She cannot and will not leave now, reply others. The upcoming months are critical for Britain, with so little time left before a Brexit deal must be struck. May could easily have stood down after last year’s election, but she understood that the country needed stability. New leadership would plunge the country into even greater chaos. May will hold on.

You Decide

  1. Will Theresa May still be prime minister in a month’s time?
  2. Should a Brexiteer be the next prime minister?

Activities

  1. Summarise this story in no more than 100 words.
  2. Write a 500-word critical analysis of Boris Johnson’s resignation letter (you’ll find a link to it in Become An Expert). How effectively does he convey his annoyance with Theresa May’s Brexit stance?

Some People Say...

“We are truly headed for the status of colony.”

Boris Johnson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Boris Johnson resigned as foreign secretary less than 24-hours after David Davis quit his job as Brexit secretary. Both walked out in protest against Theresa May’s plans for a much softer Brexit than she initially promised. Dominic Raab has replaced Davis, and Jeremy Hunt has been appointed as Johnson’s replacement. We know that it is only three months until the final EU summit where a deal could be agreed.
What do we not know?
What on earth happens next. We do not know whether Boris Johnson is planning a leadership bid, or whether he will be at the front of an anti-May coup at all. There are four people jostling for favouritism to be the next Tory leader: Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.

Word Watch

Chequers
The prime minister’s country residence in Buckinghamshire.
Dominic Raab
The 44-year-old entered Parliament in 2010 after a career in the foreign office. Before becoming secretary of state for exiting the European Union he was the housing minister.
Shortly before May addressed Parliament
This was before Johnson had had time to finish his resignation statement, a move that greatly annoyed Johnson’s allies.
Jeremy Hunt
Hunt had previously been health secretary.
1922 Committee
Officially known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, the 1922 meets weekly while Parliament is in session and is a way for backbenchers to coordinate and discuss their views independently of frontbenchers. It is currently headed by Graham Brady.
Leadership election
In Conservative Party leadership elections, MPs present a choice of two candidates to the whole party. Then, party members vote for their preferred candidates from the shortlist using a “one member one vote” system.