British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down after a string of scandals

Barely one day after striking a defiant tone, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his nation Thursday he would resign his post later in the summer and stand down now as head of his party. It marks the beginning of the end of a chaotic, eventful premiership. Anand Menon, director of the UK in Changing Europe Initiative at King's College London, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Barely one day after striking a defiant tone, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his nation today that he would resign his post later in the summer and stand down now as head of the Conservative Party.

    It marks the beginning of the end of a chaotic, eventful Johnson premiership, as Amna Nawaz reports.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amid a cresting wave of anger within Britain, especially his own party, Boris Johnson admitted today what almost everyone already knew: It was time to go.

  • Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister:

    It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and, therefore, a new prime minister.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But this was a resignation from his party as its leader, not his premiership, at least not yet. His three years in power marked by tumult and upheaval now coming to a close after a mass exodus from his government crescendoed in recent days.

  • Boris Johnson:

    As we have seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dozens of ministers resigned, two top Cabinet secretaries left, saying their consciences would no longer allow them to serve Johnson.

  • Former U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid:

  • Sajid Javid, Former British Health Minister:

    Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months. And, Mr. Speaker, I will never risk losing my integrity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The cause? An attempted cover-up by Johnson, who promoted his former aide Chris Pincher to a top legislative post, despite sexual misconduct claims against him. Johnson tried to claim he didn't know about the accusations, then later walked that back.

  • Boris Johnson:

    Thank you all very much.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Even as Johnson leaves the party helm, he says he will stay on as prime minister until a successor is named.

  • Keir Starmer, Labor Party Leader:

    What a pathetic spectacle.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Earlier today, opposition Labor Leader Keir Starmer threatened to bring the matter to a vote of no confidence, saying it was a matter of national interest.

  • Keir Starmer:

    He needs to go completely, none of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months. He's inflicted lies, fraud and chaos in the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The 58-year-old former journalist and London mayor leaves behind a messy legacy rife with scandal and brazen political moves. He is credited with leading the country out of the European Union.

  • Boris Johnson:

    What is it that we're going to do?

  • Audience:

    Get Brexit done!

  • Boris Johnson:

    We're going to get Brexit done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the Brexit transition has been rocky, notably, a stagnant U.K. economy, disputed trade agreements stemming the flow of goods and unresolved border issues with Northern Ireland.

    The COVID-19 pandemic led to one of the largest scandals in Johnson's tenure. Johnson publicly called for lockdowns and social distancing, leading Britons to isolate, unable to say goodbye to loved ones or grieve together. But, privately, it was revealed Johnson was hosting and attending parties in large groups.

    The embattled prime minister first denied his involvement, coercing his Cabinet to back him, then went on to face national scorn for lying and a nearly fatal no-confidence vote in Parliament in early June.

    Johnson is, however, commended for an effective vaccine rollout and a high rate of protection for British citizens.

  • Boris Johnson:

    The most important thing you can do, under all circumstances, is get your booster.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But his departure comes as public trust in his leadership hit record lows. A poll last month indicated that three in four Britons viewed him as untrustworthy.

    Even in his resignation remarks, Johnson was unfazed, saying he was — quote — "immensely proud" of his administration's achievements.

  • Boris Johnson:

    I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them's the breaks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the timeline for finding Johnson's successor will be announced next week.

    For more on the resignation, we turn now to Anand Menon. He's director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe research initiative at King's College London.

    Anand Menon, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for joining us.

    So, to be clear, Boris Johnson is still prime minister. He says he will not step down until a successor is named. So what are we looking at in the way of a timeline? How long will he remain in that role?

  • Anand Menon, King’s College London:

    Well, firstly, just to correct you, he's caretaker prime minister. And that makes a difference, because it means that he can't initiate policy changes or bring great in new tax policies or anything like that. He is constrained in what he can do. He's not as powerful as he was as prime minister.

    But, as for timeline, well, that depends.As you said, the rules will be defined by conservative M.P.s next week. Some people are saying at the moment that he could be there, Boris Johnson could be there in Downing Street until September. He himself said October.

    I think what Conservative M.P.s will do over the weekend is have conversations among themselves about whether they can shorten that timeline, whether they can make the leadership contest quicker than it might ordinarily have been, simply to ensure that Mr. Johnson is not there in Downing Street for that long.

    And they don't want him there for two reasons. One, I think the trust has gone. But, two, we face real problems in this country, not least a very acute cost of living crisis. And if government is hampered by not being able to take long-term decisions, that's not going to help our response.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So what's keeping him from stepping down altogether right now? I mean, he says he wants to stay out of a sense of duty and obligation. There are those with a more cynical read. There have even been some reports that says he wants to stay because he retains the use of the official country estate, where he and his wife have an upcoming wedding celebration planned.

    What's your take on this?

  • Anand Menon:

    Well, there are stories in the British media tomorrow about this party on the 30th of July.

    Whatever his reasons, whether it's to plan his future, whether it's to have the party, whether it genuinely is a sense of duty, this was Boris Johnson's decision.

    And the problem the Conservative Party faces is this. Boris Johnson is leader of the Conservative Party because of the support of Conservative M.P.s. And that, he has lost. And there is a contest under way. Boris Johnson is prime minister because of the backing of Parliament.

    So the only way to force him out and to stop him being prime minister against his will, will be to have a vote of no confidence in Parliament. But the Conservative Party doesn't want to do that, because that would trigger an election. And, at the moment, they are behind in the polls.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, when you take a step back, I mean, he has survived so much. He's been a bit of a Teflon leader, right, the fallout from Brexit and the COVID response, lying about the parties.

    Why do you think this one issue was the straw that broke the camel's back?

  • Anand Menon:

    Well, I think you have hit the nail on the head. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. It wasn't this one issue in isolation. It was this one issue on top of parties, on top of a dysfunctional Downing Street, on top of number of things that are — on top of electoral defeats in by-elections that really worried M.P.s.

    And so when we came to this final story, which was a story both of bad judgment and of deliberately misleading on the part of the government, I think Conservative M.P.s simply thought: We're behind in the polls. He's no longer sort of electoral magic in the way he used to be. We need to get rid of him now.

    Because the calculation I think was made that Boris Johnson has started to harm the Conservative brand.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it may be too soon to talk about legacy, but when you look at the last three years, this is a man who went from a landslide victory three years ago to this moment today.

    So, what can you say about his leadership in the U.K. and what he leaves behind?

  • Anand Menon:

    I mean, I think, firstly, it is too soon to talk about legacy, partly because it's only just happened, partly too because, of course, he might have two or three months left. And who knows what will happen over the next two or three months?

    But I think some context helps. Yes, Boris Johnson was a fantastic campaigning politician. That being said, the reasons for his decisive victory in December 2019 were partly down to the opponent he faced. He was facing a uniquely unpopular leader of the Labor Party.

    So we need to be a bit more measured in our assessment of him. But I think, to give you a quick take, I would say here was a man who was a fantastic campaigner, but nowhere near as good when it came to the nitty gritty of actually governing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And in just the few seconds have left, is there any word on who's likely to be the next leader? Who will fill in, in his role?

  • Anand Menon:

    It's a massive long list that would probably take me more time than we have just to read out.

    There are two or three early favorites, but elections for Conservative leader are the hardest elections to call, because they're complicated, they're secretive, and they involve politicians trying to canvass the support of other politicians.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will be watching, for sure. We thank you for helping us to make sense of it all.

    That is Anand Menon of the U.K. in a Changing Europe research initiative at King's College London.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Anand Menon:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment