While you wouldn’t necessarily think it to look at him, Boris Johnson has shown that he possesses the agility and bendiness to dodge even the deadliest of bullets in his time as prime minister.
But even his Matrix-esque ability to avert disaster will surely be tested to the limits after two of his most senior and influential allies sensationally quit the government on Tuesday.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor who many felt was being groomed to replace Boris as Conservative party leader in the future, and health secretary Sajid Javid have both walked away from their roles – penning resignation letters that damned Boris and threw his leadership further into question.
Why Did Sunak and Javid Quit?
While neither man has given a specific reason for their decision to resign, both hinted at dissension in the ranks in their respective resignation letters.
You can read Sunak’s missive in full on the government’s website, and in it he writes that ‘the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously’, and that ahead of a planned joint speech on the UK economy, the former chancellor and the prime minister’s beliefs on how best to solve the cost of living crisis were ‘fundamentally too different.’
Javid, meanwhile, referenced the vote of confidence which Boris survived – albeit with 148 Tory MPs requesting that he quit. “It was a moment for humility, grip and new direction,” he wrote. “I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership – and you have therefore lost my confidence too.”
The timing of the resignations coincides with a new scandal gripping the Conservative party. Chris Pincher, the MP for Tamworth, is facing a number of allegations of sexual misconduct, and it has been suggested that Boris lied about knowing of the complaints ahead of appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip.
The wording of Sunak and Javid’s letters also hints, perhaps, that they plan to return to governance should Boris resign or be shown the exit door at 10 Downing Street – the former chancellor’s in particular reads like a job application. One, if not both, will be in the running to stand as prime minister should Johnson finally get the bullet.
In the past month alone, more than half-a-dozen Conservative MPs have quit their roles, with Sunak and Javid joined by former party chairman Oliver Dowden, education ministers Will Quince and Robin Walker and Bim Afolami, the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party for youth.
Who Has Replaced Sunak and Javid?
Boris has already announced his replacements for the two departees.
Nadhim Zawahi will leave his role as education secretary to become chancellor. He drew praise for his work as the temporary vaccines minister at the height of the pandemic, and has a background that includes founding the YouGov research site – whose own poll suggests that 70% of respondents believe that Boris should now quit as PM.
Elsewhere, Steve Barclay has been appointed health secretary. He has been the chief of staff at Downing Street, although his work as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union under Theresa May has been panned after they failed to get Brexit over the line.
Can Boris Johnson Be Sacked as Prime Minister?
In surviving the vote of confidence brought about by the 1922 Committee, Boris should be granted immunity for a year – meaning he couldn’t be ‘sacked’ until June 2023 at the earliest.
However, there is some small print among the legalese which allows for the 1922 Committee to change the rules – and thus allow for another vote of confidence sooner – if their 18-strong membership signs off on it.
To that end, it’s not impossible that Boris could be sacked later in 2022.
Just a fortnight ago, following a pair of humiliating local election defeats, I wrote a piece about Boris’ immediate future. In it, I revealed that the Prime Minister was odds-on to see out 2022 as the Conservative leader.
Well, Johnson fans, I’ve got some bad news. According to the Betfair Exchange, Boris has been backed into as short as 1.14 to leave Downing Street at some point this year – although expecting a man of his enormous ego to resign still seems somewhat far-fetched.
A fortnight ago, the Tories were 1.91 to win the most seats at the next General Election – they’ve actually shortened to 1.86, which suggests the market believes the increasingly-unpopular Boris will be elbowed out before the electorate goes to the ballot.
The Next Prime Minister market has been given a huge shake-up. Penny Mordaunt is into 6.20 favourite, with Rishi (6.80), Ben Wallace (9.40), Liz Truss (11.00) and Javid (12.50) watching developments with interest.