Britain’s Labour party has threatened a bid to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of Downing Street immediately, following his resignation in the face of a cabinet uprising.
Johnson quit as leader of the ruling Conservative party on Thursday, after a frenzy of nearly 60 resignations in less than 48 hours in opposition to his scandal-hit reign.
However, the 58-year-old, whose three-year premiership has been defined by Britain’s departure from the European Union and the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, said he would stay on until his successor is found.
Former finance minister Rishi Sunak, whose resignation on Tuesday was instrumental in Johnson’s demise, meanwhile launched his bid for the top job.
“Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country,” the multimillionaire said, presenting a slick video on social media at the start of what could be a months-long campaign.
The defence minister, Ben Wallace, who is also expected to declare, according to the Daily Telegraph, and Sunak are among the early frontrunners, a YouGov poll of Tory members suggested.
However, calls mounted for Johnson to leave straight away and for an acting leader to be appointed in the interim.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the main opposition party aimed to trigger a vote of no confidence in parliament if the Tories do not get rid of Johnson immediately.
“He’s a proven liar who’s engulfed in sleaze and we can’t have another couple of months of this,” she told BBC radio. “If they don’t, we will call a no-confidence vote because it’s pretty clear he hasn’t got the confidence of the House (of Commons) or the British public.”
To do so, Labour would need the support of dozens of Conservative MPs.
However, the strategy is fraught as it could trigger a general election, and the danger of Tory MPs losing their seats, if Johnson is defeated.
Johnson’s spokesman said there was no question of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab taking over as caretaker.
“The prime minister is acting in line with convention. He remains prime minister until a new party leader is in place and the work of the government will continue whilst that takes place,” he told journalists.
A timetable for the leadership contest is expected on Monday, with the winner installed in time for the party’s annual conference in early October.
As well as Sunak, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat and Attorney-General Suella Braverman have also both officially announced their candidatures.
Former health and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Johnson in 2019, was “virtually certain” to run again, a source close to Hunt told British media.
In a defiant resignation speech in Downing Street on Thursday, Johnson said he was “sad ... to be giving up the best job in the world”.
However, he said he initially refused to surrender to his “herd” of Tory critics by claiming a personal mandate he won by a landslide in December 2019.
Even while eyeing the exit, Johnson sought to steady the ship, making several appointments to replace departed cabinet members.
At a first meeting of his hastily convened new top team, Johnson confirmed his lame-duck status by saying “major fiscal decisions should be left for the next prime minister”, Downing Street said.
Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid prompted the exodus by quitting late on Tuesday, just as Johnson apologised for appointing a senior colleague facing sexual assault claims to a prominent role.
Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip last week following accusations he had drunkenly groped two men.
Downing Street officials eventually conceded that Johnson had known about other allegations against Pincher back in 2019, and many ministers recoiled at having to defend the PM yet again.
As late as Wednesday night, Johnson – whose landslide 2019 win was the biggest Tory victory since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s – had been defiantly clinging to power.
However, he was forced to concede his time was up after another round of resignations on Thursday morning and warnings of a second no-confidence vote next week by Tory MPs.
Newspapers reporting the resignation of Boris Johnson are seen on the floor at Downing Street in London.