LONDON — Scandal-ridden Prime Minister Boris Johnson capitulated to mounting pressure Thursday and announced his decision to step down after days of high-profile government resignations and calls from fellow Conservative Party members to quit.
“In the past few weeks, I have been trying to convince my colleagues it would be eccentric to change governments when we have achieved so much,” he said in his speech outside No. 10 Downing St. amid loud booing from the crowd nearby. “I regret not to be successful in those arguments and, of course, it’s painful not to be able to see through those projects myself.”
Johnson said he planned to remain as prime minister until a successor was chosen — a move that was already facing opposition in an increasingly hostile Parliament.
He becomes the third consecutive British prime minister to resign in recent years, following Theresa May and David Cameron.
While Johnson was met with applause from colleagues on Downing Street, a nearby crowd attempted to drown out his speech with boos and other disruptions. A loudspeaker blasted a reworked version of the Bay City Rollers song “Bye Bye Baby,” with the lyrics changed to “bye bye Boris.”
Some in the crowd celebrated Johnson’s departure.
“He’s a born liar and you can’t have faith in someone who tells that many lies,” said Diane Flynn, 40, who was visiting London from Glasgow, Scotland.
Months of discontent within his governing party over Johnson’s judgment and ethics erupted with the resignations of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other Tuesday evening.
The final straw for them was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of sexual misconduct allegations within Conservative Party ranks.
Calls for Johnson’s resignation only intensified in the hours that followed, during which more than 50 other members of the government also resigned.
The embattled prime minister had few allies left in the final hours before his announcement, with even ministers he had appointed 36 hours ago turning against him. Before his announcement, Johnson was abandoned by the finance minister and the education minister he had promoted in a bid to hold on. They were joined by a succession of other ministers — leaving the government virtually rudderless as it faces some of its most serious crises in decades.
“Yesterday, I made clear to the Prime Minister alongside my colleagues in No. 10 that there was only one direction where this was going, and that he should leave with dignity,” newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi wrote in an open letter published on Twitter early Thursday.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government at this late hour,” he said.
British prime ministers are not directly elected by voters and instead are chosen by the governing party. As such, Johnson needed the support of fellow Conservative Party members to stay in power.
He survived a vote of confidence last month, with 41% of fellow Conservative members voting to oust him. That followed the scandal dubbed “partygate,” in which Johnson was fined by police and slammed by an investigator’s report over lockdown-breaching parties he and his aides held during the pandemic.
Now that he has announced his intention to step down, a timetable to choose his replacement is set to be announced next week. A snap poll by U.K. pollster YouGov found Defense Minister Ben Wallace a clear favorite for the internal party race, with Foreign Minister Liz Truss in second.
But Thursday's speech and the hopes of many Conservatives to move on will not necessarily quell the turmoil at the heart of the government. While Johnson has resigned as the leader of the Conservatives, he has not yet stepped down as prime minister and instead plans to stay on in a “caretaker” capacity until a successor is chosen.
Soon after his speech, calls came for Johnson to leave Downing Street immediately.
“For the overall wellbeing of the country, Mr. Johnson should not remain in Downing Street,” former Prime Minister John Major wrote in a letter.
His sentiments were echoed by the political opposition.
“He needs to go completely. None of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months," Labour Party leader Keir Starmer told Sky News.
"He inflicted lies, fraud and chaos in the country. We are stuck with a government which isn’t functioning in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis."
Alex Smith and Mahalia Dobson reported from London, and Rhoda Kwan from Taipei.