Boris Johnson loyalist takes on new role amid chaotic rush of resignations
Mr Johnson faces the biggest leadership crisis of his premiership after his handling of the row over scandal-hit ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher sparked a flurry of resignations on Tuesday evening.
Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor, saying government was not being conducted “properly, competently and seriously”, shortly after Mr Javid stepped down as health secretary.
In scathing remarks, the departing health secretary said the British people “expect integrity”, but voters now believed Mr Johnson’s administration was neither competent nor “acting in the national interest”.
Nadhim Zahawi was named as Mr Sunak’s replacement as chancellor. Meanwhile junior minister Michelle Donelan stepped up to fill Mr Zahawi’s shoes as education secretary.
Mr Barclay, the new health secretary, had been given a top job at No 10 as part of an attempted reset of Mr Johnson’s premiership in February, made chief of staff while remaining a minister at the Cabinet Office.
Having struggled to move on from Parytygate, the PM is again attempting a desperate reset, rocked by accusations from a former top Foreign Office official that No 10 lied about whether the PM knew about sexual misconduct complaints against Mr Pincher.
Mr Johnson admitted he should have sacked Mr Pincher when he was told about misconduct claims against him in 2019, but instead went on to appoint him deputy chief whip.
“I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it,” he told broadcasters. “In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do. I apologise to everybody who has been badly affected by it.”
But Mr Sunak and Mr Javid resigned soon after the PM’s comments. Bim Afolami then quit as Tory vice chair live on air – telling TalkTV that Mr Johnson no longer had his support and should now “step down”.
The prime minister was then hit by a series of resignations by parliamentary private secretaries (PPS) from government, including the shock exit of one of his most loyal backbenchers.
Red wall Tory MP Jonathan Gullis – who has been a fierce defender of Mr Johnson – resigned as PPS to the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, saying the government had become distracted “dealing with our reputational damage”.
Tory MP Saqib Bhatti stepped down as PPS to outgoing health secretary Sajid Javid, saying the governement’s “integrity and trust” had been fatally undermined. Virginia Crosbie resigned as PPS to the Wales Office, while Andrew Murrison resigned as one of the PM’s trade envoys.
In the most severe condemnation of the PM, Ms Crosbie said: “You cannot be trusted to tell the truth. This can never be a position to inhabit for anyone in public life, let alone prime minister.”
Dominic Raab, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Ben Wallace, Nadine Dorries and Therese Coffey were among the senior cabinet ministers standing by Mr Johnson on Tuesday night as the government appeared to implode.
Jacob Rees-Mogg backed Mr Johnson to remain PM, claiming that he is “a big man who is willing to apologise”. The Brexit opportunities minister claimed that it was “a wonderfully 18th century view” to think the PM had to resign because his ministers had quit.
Tory rebels urged Mr Johnson to quit – but also vowed to oust him in the weeks ahead by staging a fresh confidence vote if he does decide to cling on.
One backbencher opposed to the PM told The Independent: “I had been hoping some cabinet ministers would show some backbone. If he clings on, we will have to get rid of him.”
Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale: “There comes a time when the game is up. I would like to think that even at this stage Boris Johnson is an honourable man, has to go and resign. If he doesn’t we’ll do it for him.”
Rebels hope that a majority of anti-Johnson MPs will be elected onto the 18-member 1922 committee during the powerful backbench groups elections next week.
Current committee rules mean the prime minister is safe from another no-confidence vote for another 12 months, after narrowly survived a ballot last month, but rebels are hoping to change the rules and allow a fresh contest.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who is putting himself forward for the 1922 committee, said that he believed there would be “pro-rule change” committee after the imminent elections.
“Whatever the cabinet do, I think we’ll be changing the rules before summer recess to remove the prime minister [through] a second confidence vote,” he told Sky News.
Mr Bridgen added: “Any cabinet minister who doesn’t resign his position in the next 24-hours are ruling themselves out of any future leadership bids.”