North Devon MP Selaine Saxby has become the 19th member of parliament to resign from positions in Government in a chaotic day for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The exodus of Tory MPs was led last night by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
More followed this morning, and still more after the Prime Minister faced his critics during a stormy Prime Minister’s Questions session in the Commons. The Prime Minister had apologised for appointing MP Chris Pincher to a government role after being told about a misconduct complaint, which Mr Pincher denies.
The PM admitted he had been told about the complaint in 2019 – but had made a “bad mistake” by not acting on it. The Pincher problem heaped more pressure on a Prime Minister already reeling from “Partygate” and other issues during his time in office.
In a Tweet this afternoon the North Devon Conservative MP said: “With much regret I can no longer continue in my present role as PPS.” She has been a Parliamentary Private Secretary at both DEFRA and more recently the Treasury.
Her resignation letter reads: “I have not spoken out sooner as I had not wanted to be a distraction in the recent Tiverton and Honiton by-election and divert attention from our excellent candidate and hard-working volunteers.
“Trust, truth and integrity are vital in our work as politicians and public servants, and I had hoped that the reset earlier in the year might have given us the chance for a different direction. However, the events of this week have shown that not to be the case.
East Devon Conservative MP Simon Jupp has called on Boris Johnson’s to resign on a day of chaos for the Prime Minister. He said he no longer had confidence in Mr Johnson and called on him to “do the decent thing and resign”.
By 2pm, nineteen Ministers and Government figures had resigned over the PM’s handling of the Chris Pincher affair. Some said it was just the latest in a series of misjudgements which had led them to question their faith in him.
This afternoon Mr Johnson faced his critics during a stormy Prime Minister’s Questions session in the Commons. The Prime Minister had apologised for appointing MP Chris Pincher to a government role after being told about a misconduct complaint, which Mr Pincher denies.
The Pincher problem heaped more pressure on a Prime Minister already reeling from “Partygate” and other issues during his time in office. North Devon Tory MP Selaine Saxby was among those to resign.
In an open letter to his East Devon constituents he wrote: “I wish to inform the people I am proud to represent that I no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister.
“Boris Johnson has faced many challenges. He has demonstrated admirable leadership on the international stage to support Ukraine. He went above and beyond to protect jobs at the height of the pandemic.
“However, too many of the challenges faced by the Prime Minister are a result of self-inflicted wounds. Leaders must demonstrate integrity, honesty, and set a high standard that we can all be proud of. The current situation is a grotesque distraction from the many challenges we face as a nation. I cannot tolerate this any longer and my constituents in East Devon expect better.
“I order to restore trust in the highest office of the land, the Prime Minister must do the decent thing and resign. If he does not, colleagues and I must consider how we can bring about a change in leadership at the earliest opportunity.
“It is the honour of my life to serve as the Member of Parliament for East Devon. I will never take that for granted.”
BORIS ON THE BRINK: Boris Johnson faces the music today with not one but two high-profile public appearances in the wake of a shattering day for his premiership which saw his health secretary and his chancellor quit the Cabinet in quick succession. Tuesday unfolded with dizzying speed, beginning with former Foreign Office chief Simon McDonald accusing the PM of lying about what he knew of accusations against Chris Pincher and ending with 10 fewer people prepared to stick up for the government, as ministers, parliamentary aides and trade envoys rapidly abandoned ship.
Watch this space: Johnson is digging in like never before, but there’s no escaping that he is materially weakened to the point where it’s hard to find (m)any of his own MPs who believe he can or should lead them into the next election. Playbook’s Eleni Courea has heard that more backbenchers from the 2019 intake are planning to put out letters today saying they’ve had enough. We hope you’re keen on popcorn, because there will be extra helpings today.
Popcorn starter: This morning it’s none other than the U.K.’s brand new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, on the broadcast round. There were reports of wrangling over the keys to No. 11 last night, with Downing Street deputy chief of staff David Canzini apparently making the case for Liz Truss, and Steve Barclay in the frame at one point, per the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith. But Zahawi — former refugee, pollster, wheeler dealer and until yesterday, education secretary — won out. For a primer on the PM’s new righthand man it’s well worth revisiting this profile of him in his breakthrough role as vaccines minister, by POLITICO’s own Emilio Casalicchio. There’s already some extremely choice briefing about how Zahawi will differ from Sunak, more of which in a minute.
Popcorn main course: PMQs is at midday, so anyone hoping to steal the limelight and cross the floor before that had better get their skates on. Johnson must summon up a whole new reserve of energy to deliver something resembling a fightback, with all eyes on the benches behind him. Jonathan Gullis — whose loyalty, in Timothy Stanley’s memorable phrase, previously bordered on hooliganism — quit as Northern Ireland PPS yesterday. No announcement on who’s being shuffled into the role of head PMQs cheerleader has yet been made.
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Popcorn pudding: Johnson will appear in front of the Liaison Committee at 3 p.m. for a grilling by select committee chairs, with some unlikely to show mercy. Contributions from well-known Johnson antagonists William Wragg and Caroline Nokes should be particularly spicy on the subject of the thought processes leading to Chris Pincher’s appointment as deputy chief whip despite numerous concerns raised over his conduct. Reminder: Johnson apologized for the appointment yesterday, but it was hard to make out with the sound of so many things crashing down around him. One Tory MP on the liaison committee was succinct in their preview to Playbook: “He is toast.”
PM’s message: A senior government official conceded to Playbook it had been a “tough day” (understatement of the year, anyone?) but pledged the PM would go on “delivering on what the people put us here to do.” Asked if Johnson was daunted, the same official said “he has a mandate from 14 million people to deliver an ambitious agenda, transforming the country, driving economic growth, reforming key services and showing leadership in tough times.” They insisted “he’s got two years to go” and “what he needs is a team of people around him who are committed” and “not having endless self-destructive fights among themselves.”
TLDR: The Times’ Steven Swinford has an anecdote which sums all that up nicely: “Boris Johnson was asked by an ally tonight if he was considering quitting. He responded: ‘Fuck that.’”
More on that: One former aide to Johnson described his current mentality as “scorched earth policy” in which “you’re retreating and you burn everything to the ground as you go.” Lucky us.
It was a privilege to have been asked to come back into Government to serve as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at such a critical time for our country. I have given every ounce of energy to this task, and am incredibly proud of what we have achieved.
The UK has led the world in learning to live with Covid. Thanks to the amazing rollout of our booster programme, investment in treatments, and innovations in the way we deliver healthcare, the British people have enjoyed months more freedom than other comparable countries.
We have also made important strides in the recovery and reform of the NHS and adult social care. The longest waiters are down by 70% and, as you know, I have been working hard on wider modernisation of the NHS. I have also developed radical new approaches to dementia, cancer and mental health, and prepared the Health Disparities White Paper which will set out plans to level up health outcomes for communities that have been left behind for too long.
Given the unprecedented scale of the challenges in health and social care, it has been my instinct to continue focusing on this important work. So it is with enormous regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this Government, I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their Government.
The tone you set as leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party, and ultimately the country. Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not always have been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest. Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree. It was a moment for humility, grip and new direction. I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too.
It is three years since you entered Downing Street. You will forever be credited with seeing off the threat of Corbynism, and breaking the deadlock on Brexit. You have shone a very welcome light on the regional disparities on our country, an agenda that will continue to define our politics. These are commendable legacies in unprecedented times. But the country needs a strong and principled Conservative Party, and the Party is bigger than any one individual. I served you loyally and as a friend, but we all serve the country first. When made to choose between those loyalties there can only be one answer.
Finally, I would like to put on record my thanks to ministerial and departmental colleagues, my admiration for NHS and social care staff, and my love for my family who have been immensely patient in these challenging times.
Rishi Sunak’s resignation letter
It is with deep sadness that I am writing to you to resign from the Government.
It has been an enormous privilege to serve our country as Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will always be proud of how during the pandemic we protected people’s jobs and businesses through actions such as furlough.
To leave ministerial office is a serious matter at any time. For me to step down as Chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly.
However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.
I have been loyal to you. I backed you to become Leader of our Party and encouraged others to do so. I have served as your Chancellor with gratitude that you entrusted me with stewardship of the nation’s economy and finances. Above all, I have respected the powerful mandate given to you by the British people in 2019 and how under your leadership we broke the Brexit deadlock.
That is why I have always tried to compromise in order to deliver the things you want to achieve. On those occasions where I disagreed with you privately, I have supported you publicly. That is the nature of the collective government upon which our system relies and it is particularly important that the Prime Minister and Chancellor remain united in hard times such as those we are experiencing today.
Our country is facing immense challenges. We both want a low-tax, high-growth economy, and world class public services, but this can only be responsibly delivered if we are prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and take difficult decisions.
I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it’s not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one. In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different.
I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this.
Boris Johnson’s response to Sajid Javid
Thank you for your letter this evening tendering your resignation. I was very sorry to receive it.
You have served this Government, and the people of the United Kingdom, with distinction. Most recently, you have led the Department of Health and Social Care as we learn to live with Covid, forging ahead with plans to beat the Covid backlogs, recruit 50,000 nurses, build 40 new hospitals, and reform social care. These are the issues that matter to the people of this country, and the Government will continue to deliver on them.
You have held significant positions in Government for the past decade, and have served myself and former Prime Ministers admirably. You have used your personal experience to bring about change in government, from fixing the injustices of Windrush to setting out recently a plan to address suicide.
You will be greatly missed, and I look forward to your contributions from the backbenches.
Boris Johnson’s response to Rishi Sunak
I was sorry to receive your letter resigning from the Government.
You have provided outstanding service to the country through the most challenging period for our economy in peacetime history.
In March 2020, weeks after your appointment as Chancellor, we introduced a national lockdown to protect people from the pandemic. You acted to safeguard the economy with the pace, creativity and commitment which has been the hallmark of your tenure.
The furlough scheme – conceived and implemented in a matter of weeks – supported 11.7 million jobs from 1.3 million employers. Through business loans and grants, you helped thousands of businesses to avoid insolvency. Emergency funding worth more than £140 billion, enabled the NHS and other critical public services to meet the enormous challenges we faced.
These efforts primed the economy for a rapid recovery once the immediate dangers of the pandemic receded. At the Spending Review last year, you put us on track to deliver our promises to the British people, including 20,000 police officers and 40 new hospitals. We also set a clear plan to rebuild our economy and public services, including an historic funding settlement for the NHS and delivering six million tutoring courses to help pupils catch up lost learning.
Through all of this, you have not shied from the tough decisions needed to repair our public finances whilst protecting public services and boosting economic growth. This has enabled us to provide support to households worth £37 billion, as we have faced global inflation pressures arising from Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
And we have begun to deliver tax cuts to families – including this week, a cut to National Insurance saving the average worker £330 a year.
I have enormously valued your advice and deep commitment to public service and will miss working with you in government.
After limping along in the wake of the Partygate investigation, multiple sex scandals and successive policy failures, Boris Johnson is approaching the endgame of his time in Downing Street, according to the papers.
“Finally” says the banner headline in the Mirror, adding that “after years of backing toxic PM, Sunak & Javid wield knife”.
The Sun has the headline “Last chance saloon” and also paints a bloody, Shakespearean scene by adding that “Boris knifed in day from hell”.
“Can even Boris the Greased Piglet wriggle out of this?”, asks the Mail, adding that their “excoriating” resignation letters damn the prime minister’s lack of “integrity” and “grip”.
The Telegraph clears its front page to cover the crisis in one huge story. Its headline is: “Johnson hanging by a thread as Sunak and Javid walk out” and publishes prominently scathing quotes from their resignation letters. It describes the PM as “scrambling” to shore up his cabinet.
The Times says “Johnson on the brink’” and highlights Rishi Sunak’s words in his resignation letter saying “I’ve been loyal… but we cannot continue like this”.
The Guardian front page says “PM on the brink as Javid and Sunak quit” on what it calls a day of “dramatic walkouts”.
The Financial Times goes with a similar line and what, for the pink ‘un, is the unusual treatment of spreading the story right across the front of the paper. “Johnson on brink as ministers quit”, it says.
“Going! Going! Gone?” says the Metro, and it has the clever line that the prime minister has been caught in a “Pincher movement”.
“The whole rotten lot need to go” says the Record, while the Herald has “Johnson on the brink”.
It’s left to the ever-loyal Express to put a positive spin on the crisis, which it tries to paint as an opportunity for a “liberated” Johnson to lay out his “true blue Tory agenda”, perhaps hinting at past tensions with the former chancellor Sunak. It claims a coup has already failed. The headline: “Boris fights on! Declaring … I’m now free to cut taxes”.