Flanked by No 10 staffers and loyal allies, the PM says he told cabinet colleagues it would be ‘eccentric’ to change leader
Announcing his departure from No 10 — two years after winning the Tories’ biggest majority in decades — the prime minister did not reference the multiple scandals that have rocked his time in office.
But he acknowledged it was “clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader” after dozens expressed no confidence in his embattled leadership.
Mr Johnson is expected to remain in Downing Street in charge of a “caretaker” government until his successor is elected by the Tory faithful. The process will begin next week, with the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee of backbench MPs formally kick-starting a leadership contest.
Flanked by his wife, Carrie, No 10 staff and a small number of MPs who have remained loyal to him, Mr Johnson said: “Today I’ve appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place”.
After being faced with a delegation of cabinet ministers urging him to resign on Wednesday evening, the prime minister said he attempted to persuade his colleagues it would be “eccentric” to change leader. “I regret not to have been successful in those arguments,” he conceded.
Despite first vowing to “fight on” and resist calls to step down, he said on Thursday that “in politics, no one is remotely indispensable” and suggested his arguments to stay in power were rejected due to a “herd instinct” at Westminster in the last 48 hours.
“I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself,” he added. “But as we’ve seen, at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves.
“And my friends in politics, no one is remotely indispensable and our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times.”
The prime minister also used his speech from a lectern outside No 10 to address the people of Ukraine, saying the UK “will continue to back your fight for freedom” as Russian continues to wage war in the country.
And in a message to the British public directly, he concluded: “I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world, but them’s the breaks.
“Above all, I want to thank you, the British public, for the immense privilege that you have given me and I want you to know that from now on until the new prime minister is in place, your interests will be served and the Government of the country will carry on.
“Being prime minister is an education in itself. I have travelled to every part of the United Kingdom and in addition to the beauty of our natural world I have found so many people possessed of such boundless British originality and so willing to tackle old problems in news ways that I know that even if things seem dark now, our future together is golden.”