Saturday, August 13, 2022

UK's Boris Johnson on the brink as ministers quit

UK's Boris Johnson on the brink as ministers quit
July 6, 2022 Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was clinging to power on Wednesday, gravely wounded by the resignation of ministers who said he was not fit to govern and with a growing number of lawmakers calling for him to go.

Johnson's finance and health secretaries quit on Tuesday, along with several in more junior roles, saying they could no longer stay in government after the latest in a series of scandals blighted his administration. 

With mounting calls for Johnson to go, he showed his determination to stay in office by appointing businessman and education minister Nadhim Zahawi as his new finance minister, and filling some of the other vacancies. 

Zahawi told reporters he would look at all options to rebuild and grow the struggling economy and tame surging inflation, when asked if he would cut taxes such as corporation tax. 

The level of hostility Johnson faces within his party will be laid bare later on Wednesday when he appears in parliament for his weekly question session, and before the chairs of select committees for a scheduled two-hour grilling.

"I suspect we will have to drag him kicking and screaming from Downing Street," one Conservative lawmaker told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But if we have to do it that way then we will."

Johnson, a former journalist and London mayor who became the face of Britain's departure from the European Union, won a landslide election victory in 2019 before taking a combative and often chaotic approach to governing.

His leadership has been mired in scandals and missteps over the last few months, with the prime minister fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws and a damning report published about the behaviour of officials at his Downing Street office who breached their own lockdown rules. 

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defence of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle a cost-of-living crisis, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

The Times of London newspaper said Johnson's "serial dishonesty" was "utterly corrosive" of effective government.

"Every day that he remains deepens the sense of chaos," it said. "For the good of the country, he should go."

The latest bout of drama at the heart of British power comes as the economy deteriorates rapidly, with some economists warning that the country could tip into recession.

LOST CONFIDENCE

The latest scandal saw Johnson apologising for appointing a lawmaker to a role involved in party welfare and discipline, even after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.