Scandal-ridden Boris Johnson announced on Thursday he would quit as British prime minister after he dramatically lost the support of his ministers and most Conservative lawmakers, but said he would stay on until his successor was chosen.
According to Reuters, bowing to the inevitable as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, an isolated and powerless Johnson said it was clear his party wanted someone else in charge.
In his resignation speech, Johnson said it was “clearly now the will of the parliamentary party” for there to be a new PM.
Johnson said he was proud of his achievements, including getting Brexit done, getting the UK through the pandemic, and leading the West in standing up to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Johnson gave no apology for the events leading to his announcement and said his forced departure was “eccentric”.
“At Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves,” he said.
The Conservative lawmakers will now have to elect a new leader, a process that could take weeks or months, with details to be announced next week.
A snap YouGov poll found that defense minister Ben Wallace was the favorite among Conservative Party members to replace Johnson, followed by junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt and former finance minister Rishi Sunak.
Johnson said he will stay on in a caretaker role until his successor is elected. Opponents and many in his own party said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab, according to Reuters.
The crisis comes as Britons are facing the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with soaring inflation, and the economy forecast to be the weakest among major nations in 2023.
It also follows years of internal division sparked by the narrow 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and threats to the make-up of the United Kingdom itself with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.
The Kremlin in Moscow has taken a swipe at outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has overseen consistent British support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Johnson “really does not like us – and we (do not like) him either”. He also said he hoped “more professional people” who can “make decisions through dialogue” would take over in London.
Meanwhile, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova told reporters Johnson had been “hit by a boomerang launched by himself”, adding that the moral of the story was “do not seek to destroy Russia”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has developed a close relationship with Johnson since the start of the war, has yet to comment publicly on the end of his time in office.
But his advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, took to Twitter to thank him for being “the first to arrive in Kyiv, despite missile attacks” and “always being at the forefront of supporting” Ukraine.
The Russian officials were not the only critics, however – Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s former Brexit coordinator said Johnson’s reign was ending in “disgrace, just like his friend Donald Trump”.
“EU – UK relations suffered hugely with Johnson’s choice of Brexit,” he added.
Michel Barnier, the European Union’s former chief negotiator, said Johnson’s departure “opens a new page in relations with” the UK – one he hoped would be “more constructive, more respectful of commitments made, in particular regarding peace & stability in Northern Ireland, and more friendly”.