Boris Johnson announced his resignation as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 7 July 2022 pending a party leadership election. This announcement is part of the 2022 U.K Government Crisis which saw the mass resignation of hundreds of government officials to include government ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and trade envoys. What exactly happened? Why did Boris Johnson resign as Prime Minister?
Explaining the Resignation of Boris Johnson: A Culmination of Controversies and Scandals
Johnson is a controversial figure in British politics. His supporters have characterized him as humorous and entertaining. He appealed even beyond traditional Conservative voters. However, his critics have accused him of amorality, bigotry, cronyism, and elitism, while further describing his brand of politics as opportunistic, populist, and pragmatist.
In recent months before his announcement of his resignation, his premiership has suffered from several controversies and scandals. Members of the Conservative and Unionist Party revolted and asked Johnson to step down from his position over the series of ethics scandals that tainted the integrity of both the Party and the U.K. government.
The following are the notable scandals leading to the resignation of Boris Johnson:
1. Chris Pincher Sexual Misconduct Scandal
Pincher was appointed the Deputy Chief of Whip by Johnson in February 2020 and has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. In early July 2022, several allegations emerged about his sexual misconduct, including incidents that dated back prior to his appointment. This was a major turning point leading to the resignation of Johnson.
He was part of the so-called 2017 Westminster sexual misconduct allegations and was specifically accused of sexually assaulting former Olympic rower and Conservative Party candidate Alex Story. He was also accused of inappropriate behavior and advances toward former Parliament Member Tom Blenkinsop.
Pincher was also accused of a more recent incident, specifically one that transpired on 29 June 2022 at a private membership club in London where he allegedly groped two men. He resigned as Deputy Chief Whip on June 30 and apologized to the public. This incident reopened previous sexual misconduct allegations hurled toward him.
Several political figures critical of Johnson asked why Pincher was appointed a government position and retained as a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party. Angela Reyner, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, noted that the incident showed that standards in public life had dropped under the premiership and leadership of Johnson.
Johnson eventually admitted that he was aware of the controversies surrounding Pincher, even receiving information in 2019. He apologized for not acting on the information, Nevertheless, the incident involving Pincher triggered the 2022 U.K Government Crisis and became the major reason Boris Johnson resigned as Prime Minister.
2. Partygate COVID-19 Lockdown Violations
The United Kingdom was under strict movement restrictions and nationwide lockdowns from 2020 and 2021 as part of public health protocols intended to control the COVID-19 pandemic. These mandates involved limiting public movements and prohibiting public gatherings, as well as restricting the operations of several establishments.
Government officials were not spared from these restrictions. However, from 2020 to 2021, information about several gatherings of the government and parties participated by members of the Conservative and Unionist Party surfaced. The incidents attracted media attention and eventually caused public uproar and political controversy.
Several of these parties were even attended by Boris Johnson himself. The Metropolitan Police investigated 12 gatherings beginning in January 2022. Three of these instances included Johnson as one of the attendees. Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson, as well as other key officials, were issued fixed penalty notices for violating public health standards.
Note that some of these parties dated back to the first national lockdown while the others transpired during the second and third national lockdowns. One of these was a birthday celebration of Johnson in June 2020 held at 10 Downing Street. There was also a series of Christmas parties participated by appointed officials in 2020.
The controversial parties and gatherings have become collectively known as Partygate. Members of the opposition accused Johnson and his colleagues of deliberate lying to the public. Bereaved families of those who died of COVID-19 expressed their disappointments. The Partygate scandal essentially became one of the major issues leading to his resignation.
3. Downing Street Refurbishment Controversy
Boris Johnson also dealt with several controversies involving allegations of corruption and conducts unbecoming of government officials. For starters, in 2021, allegations surfaced regarding the controversial refurbishment of the flat above 11 Downing Street. Note that the flat served as the official residence of Johnson since 2019.
The Prime Minister was entitled to an annual allowance of GBP 30,000.00 for the maintenance and furnishing of his private residence. Expenses above this amount must be covered by himself. Nevertheless, he had his flat refurbished in 2020 through the interior design company Soane Britain. The total cost of the do-over amounted to GBP 112,549.00.
Note that the Ministerial Code mandates members of the parliament to report loans and donations to the Electoral Commissions within 28 days. Johnson never filed a report regarding the refurbishing of his official residence. A former aide, Dominic Cummings, alleged that the Prime Minister sought donations to shoulder his refurbishing expenses.
Leaked WhatsApp messages showed Johnson asked a Part donor for funds. A report by the Electoral Commission released on 9 December 2021 concluded that the Conservative and Unionist Party failed to follow the law regarding the accurate reporting of donations. The issue has been called the Downing Street refurbishment controversy.
4. Other Corruption and Misconduct Allegations
Several other major controversies haunted the premiership of Boris Johnson. One of the most notable of such involved the issues regarding COVID-19 contracts. The National Audit Office released a report concluding that GBP 10.5 billion of the GBP 18 billion budget for contracts related to the pandemic was awarded without competitive tenders.
Furthermore, a report by Transparency International U.K. found that 20 percent of the awarded contracts raised red flags for possible corruption. There was also an apparent fast-track process for companies connected to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Some of these companies are even known donors of the Party. These contracts were also more expensive.
Allegations of cronyism also surfaced in relation to the COVID-19 response of the U.K. government. For example, Diana Mary Harding, a known supporter of the Party, was appointed to run the NHS Test and Trace program. Gina Coladangelo was appointed non-executive director of the DHSC even without a health background.
Owen Patterson who served as a Member of the Parliament was also accused of breaching lobbying rules to benefit certain companies. He was found guilty of violating standards. Johnson attempted to influence his Party to overturn the suspension of Patterson. A backlash forced the Prime Minister to back down. Patterson eventually resigned.
Johnson has also been criticized for disrespecting government procedures when it suits him. For example, he asked the Queen to prorogue or shut down the Parliament for five weeks starting on 10 September 2019. The Supreme Court found the prorogation illegal. Some accused Johnson of misleading the Queen as part of his strategy to advance Brexit from the European Union.
4. Tax Hikes Amidst Increasing Cost of Living
Inflation in the United Kingdom increased drastically beginning in 2022. Reports from June 2022 showed that the inflation rate was at 9.1 percent. The situation was beyond the control of the U.K. government. The government even took some steps to control inflation through subsidies aimed at bringing down the prices of essential goods.
External factors such as oil and gas price increases due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the 2021-2022 Global Supply Chain Crisis, and the 2021-2022 Global Inflation Surge were affecting the U.K. market. However, in the middle of the increasing cost of living, the U.K. government still went on to raise taxes and National Insurance cost in April.
The government explained that the tax hike was needed to continue public health care, as well as finance its social welfare services. The hike in National Insurance that accounted for 1.2 percentage points from April 2022 was specifically justified as a necessary move to improve the functions and program of the National Health Service.
Johnson pledged that the government would help its citizens struggling due to inflation. However, the distressed U.K. economy and the growing public dissatisfaction with its government have added extra pressure on the premiership of Johnson. Some analysts noted that the resignation of Boris Johnson might give a needed economic boost.
A Note on the Controversies and Scandals: Understanding Why Boris Johnson Resigned as Prime Minister
The controversies and scandals enumerated and detailed above dealt a considerable blow to the political career of Boris Johnson, particularly his function as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and as the leader of the ruling Conservative and Unionist Party. How exactly these incidents and issues forced him to step down from office?
Remember that more than a hundred government officials resigned in early July 2022. Following the Chris Pincher scandal, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid quit their posts on July 5. These initial resignations were followed by a mass resignation that triggered the 2022 U.K. government crisis.
To understand the reason behind this mass resignation further, it is also important to note that a vote of confidence on Johnson as the leader of the Party was held in early June 2022. The Prime Minister won the vote with the support of 59 percent of the Members of the Parliament. However, this result signaled a weakening leadership and party integrity.
Oliver Dowden resigned as Chairman of the Conservative Party after they lost two seats in the parliamentary by-elections on 23 June 2022 in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton. The Labor Party got 13 percent of swing in Wakefield while the Liberal Democrats Party got 30 percent of swing in Tiverton & Honiton. These were indicative of declining political capital
The Pincher scandal might be the final straw that led to the resignation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister but it is important to also note that the previous controversies and scandals that haunted his premiership played critical roles in diminishing and tainting both his credibility before the public and even the confidence of his political allies toward his leadership.