LONDON (AP) – A field of candidates to replace outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson began to take shape on Friday, despite some Conservative Party lawmakers pushing to oust the scandal-plagued leader before his successor takes office will be elected in the next few months.
Johnson announced his resignation on Thursday – a dizzying reversal after months of insisting he would stay in his job amid mounting ethics scandals and growing Conservative discontent.
He resigned as party leader with a statement to the nation outside 10 Downing Street, but said he would remain in office as Prime Minister until his successor is elected by the party. That decision didn’t sit well with some of his Conservative peers, who fear Johnson doesn’t have the power to hold out or could wreak havoc even as caretaker prime minister.
James Cleverly, who was appointed education secretary on Thursday after his predecessor resigned amid a mass exodus of ministers, defended Johnson’s decision to stay.
“It is right that he has resigned and it is right that he has put together a team that will continue to govern while the selection process for his successor is ongoing,” Cleverly told Sky News. “And we should do that, I think, pretty quickly, fairly promptly.”
Party officials are scheduled to set the schedule for a leadership contest on Monday, aiming to have a winner by the end of the summer. The two-stage process will see Tory lawmakers voting to reduce the field of candidates to two, who will go to a vote of all party members across the country.
MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House of Commons’ influential Foreign Affairs Committee, was the second candidate to declare his candidacy, after Attorney General Suella Braverman. Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid and former Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak – whose resignations this week helped oust Johnson – are also likely contenders, along with Secretary of State Liz Truss, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Even as candidates launch their campaigns, Johnson will remain in office atop an interim government made up of a dwindling band of Loyalists along with ministers who have agreed to remain in office to keep the government running.
Johnson has vowed not to make any major policy decisions during his remaining time, but many conservatives say a lame leader is the last thing the country needs amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and a deepening livelihood crisis fueled by rising food and Food causes energy prices.
Some are also suspicious of Johnson’s intentions after a resignation speech in which he clarified that he did not want to leave but had “failed to convince my colleagues that if we deliver so much and we do, it would be eccentric to change government.” when we have such a large mandate.”
George Freeman, who stepped down as Science Secretary on Thursday, said he was concerned that a leadership election would be held at “a feverish moment of midsummer madness where we’re rushing to pick the wrong person because of instability.”
Some had urged Johnson to back down and let Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab step in as interim leader. But lawmaker Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the Conservative committee that runs party leadership contests, said “the ship has sailed”.
“We now have to live with Boris Johnson remaining prime minister until a successor can be voted on,” he said.
The main opposition party, Labor, said this was unacceptable and vowed to call for a vote of no confidence in Johnson in the House of Commons next week, although the chances of success were uncertain.
“He’s a proven liar who’s covered in dirt and we can’t have that for a few more months, you know,” said Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner. “So they have to get rid of him and if they don’t we will call a vote of no confidence because it’s pretty clear – he doesn’t have the confidence of the House of Representatives or the British public.”
The brash 58-year-old politician, who led Britain out of the European Union and spearheaded the height of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, survived lockdown-breaking scandals surrounding his spending and governing parties during the pandemic . He was brought down by one scandal too many – this one involving the appointment of a politician accused of sexual misconduct.
Johnson faced questions for days and gave conflicting answers for days about what he knew about previous allegations against Chris Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker who resigned as deputy party leader last week after allegedly groping two men at a private club. Pincher admitted he got drunk and “embarrassed myself.”
Johnson offered alternate explanations of what he knew and when he knew it. This only raised concerns that the Prime Minister could not be trusted, to boiling point.
Javid and Sunak, key cabinet members responsible for fighting COVID-19 and inflation respectively, resigned within minutes on Tuesday, sparking a wave of departures from their peers.
Johnson stayed in power for days and defiantly told lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to proceed with the affairs of government.
His resignation the next day was a humiliating defeat for a politician whose joking bluster earned him a celebrity status unmatched in British politics – but who was accused of acting as if the rules didn’t apply to him.
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