Still, given his ability to weather political storms in the past, including a no-confidence vote last month that saw 40% of Conservative MPs vote for Johnson to step down, many did not expect Johnson to resign. It was only last night, after a group of ministers convened at Downing Street to demand his resignation, that Johnson is reported to have begun taking the request seriously, before making the decision this morning to depart office.
Johnson has long been a divisive figure within the British political landscape thanks to his privileged upbringing, his history of making offensive gaffes, and his reputation for lying when faced with difficult questions. His tenure as prime minister, which began in 2019 following the resignation of Theresa May, has been marred by a seemingly endless stream of scandals, from reneging on a deal with the European Union over the so-called Irish backstop, to a brutal cabinet reshuffle that replaced more competent ministers within his circle with those perceived to be simply Johnson loyalists.
The course of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has proven an especially febrile period for Johnson. First, there was his widely derided decision to hold off on the first lockdown until the very last moment, resulting in a disproportionately high death toll in the U.K. compared to European countries that had enacted restrictions sooner. The acrimonious resignation of his former close advisor Dominic Cummings led to the airing of more of Johnson’s dirty laundry, with Cummings leaking that an expensive refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street apartment led by his new wife, Carrie, had been funded by Conservative donors rather than by Johnson himself. (It is also Cummings who is reported to have leaked the “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature” bombshell.)
But the controversy that has troubled Johnson most relates to the numerous social gatherings that took place at Downing Street during some of the nation’s strictest lockdowns—a scandal known as “Partygate.” Considered illegal, similar gatherings by private citizens at the time had been subject to whopping fines; the fact that leaks from the events included lurid details about Abba karaoke sing-alongs and suitcases filled with booze being wheeled into the office only added grist to the tabloid mill.
With the humiliation suffered by the Conservative party as a result, there were growing calls for Johnson to be ousted—culminating with the news at the beginning of June that 54 Conservative members of parliament had submitted letters of no-confidence in Johnson—crossing the threshold required to trigger a vote. While Johnson managed to emerge unscathed, many were surprised by the scale of the pushback against him from within his own party. The current rules state that a vote of no-confidence cannot be held again for another year, but some were expecting that the rebels within his party would petition to overturn this rule, leading to another vote that could prove fatal.