Boris Johnson has been told by senior cabinet minister Michael Gove that his premiership is over, as the UK prime minister was hit with a flood of ministerial resignations and his future hung in the balance.
Two senior government officials told the Financial Times that the leveling up secretary visited Johnson in Downing Street on Wednesday to tell him that his time leading the party had come to an end.
One individual with knowledge of the conversation said, “Michael essentially told him that it’s time to go, it’s over.”
Gove, who stood against Johnson in the 2016 and 2019 leadership contests, was promoted to leveling up secretary in September 2021.
His intervention came after a devastating criticism by his former health secretary Sajid Javid, who told MPs in a resignation statement that “the problem starts at the top” with the prime minister.
Javid triggered a slew of ministerial resignations, including chancellor Rishi Sunak, when he stepped down on Tuesday evening, — leaving Johnson fighting for his political survival.
Javid said he had been reassured “at the most senior level” that there were no parties in Downing Street during the Covid-19 lockdowns, only to find out that this was untrue.
More recently, he said, the government had once again lacked “truth and integrity” over allegations of sexual harassment by Chris Pincher, the former deputy chief whip. “At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” Javid told MPs. “I believe that point is now.”
Javid said it was unfair to make ministers go out on the airwaves to defend lines which did not “stand up” to scrutiny. “I do fear that the reset button can only work so many times. There’s only so many times you can turn that machine off before you realize that something is fundamentally wrong.”
The executive of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs will meet on Wednesday evening to discuss whether to change the party’s rules to allow another leadership challenge against Johnson.
One senior member of the 1922 executive committee said “if more than half of the MPs want the prime minister gone, it’s our job to facilitate his exit. We are certainly there or very nearly there.”
The MP added that Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, would most likely visit Johnson to tell him “the jig is up” and threaten a rule change if the prime minister did not quit. “But we are aware that Boris might try and cling on and it will get very messy.”
Another member of the 1922 executive committee said MPs wanted a leadership contest to begin as soon as possible. “Ideally we can get the first rounds [where MPs whittle down candidates to the final two] done before summer recess and have a new leader in place for the autumn.”
At least 27 members of the Johnson government have so far resigned in the past 24 hours, just one month after a vote of confidence in the prime minister that he won by only 59 percent.
Kemi Badenoch, minister for leveling up communities and equalities, and Julia Lopez, minister for digital, culture, media and sport, have both quit their positions.
Three under secretaries — Neil O’Brien, Lee Rowley, and Alex Burghart — have also stepped down, according to a resignation letter signed by the five MPs.
The letter said it had “become increasingly clear that the government cannot function given the issues that have come to light and the way in which they have been handled.