Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis resigns as defiant Boris Johnson refuses to quit despite mass front bench revolt

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has this morning resigned from Boris Johnson’s cabinet, telling the British Prime Minister that Government requires “honesty, integrity and mutual respect”.

n a statement posted on Twitter, he said: “A decent and responsible Government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect – it is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave Government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld.”

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Mr Lewis had previously been one of the Boris Johnson’s most fierce defenders.

Just minutes later Treasury Minister Helen Whately also resigned, telling Mr Johnson there “are only so many times you can apologise and move on”.

Mr Johnson last night refused to quit and instead sacked Michael Gove despite being confronted by Cabinet ministers, mass front-bench resignations and the threat of another leadership vote.

The British Prime Minister was on the brink of being ousted as more walkouts took the total of Tory MPs quitting official posts over the last two days beyond 40.

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis speaks to the media upon leaving BBC Broadcasting House in London, after appearing on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday Morning. Picture date: Sunday June 12, 2022.

A string of Cabinet ministers personally told Mr Johnson that he had lost the support of his party and should consider quitting in one-on-one meetings with him last night.

It can also be revealed that the UK government whips office has calculated Mr Johnson would win the support of just 65 Tory MPs in a confidence vote, from a total of almost 360.

Downing Street was braced for further resignations last night, with Cabinet ministers who had resisted quitting yesterday in order to hold talks with Mr Johnson now considering their next steps.

Mr Johnson sacked Mr Gove, the Communities Secretary, by phone around 9pm last night. Mr Gove was accused by Downing Street of leaking to the press that he had urged Mr Johnson to step down.

A Johnson ally said of Mr Gove: “He has just always been treacherous, disloyal, self-obsessed, untrustworthy – pick whichever you like.” He was also likened to a “snake” by Mr Johnson’s supporters.

The ally insisted there would be no “lectern moment” soon, declaring Mr Johnson was planning an economic reset speech that would promise new tax cuts and deregulation.

The source said that Mr Johnson’s message to Tory rebels seeking his removal was “sober up, smell the coffee and wake up”, warning if he goes that Labour could claim Number 10 with the SNP and the UK could break up.

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Michael Gove was sacked by Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

The point-blank refusal to accept the pleas of his own Cabinet ministers to quit was a stark difference to Margaret Thatcher, who agreed to step down after Cabinet pressure in 1990.

The stand-off was unlike anything in modern British political history, with Theresa May and Tony Blair having agreed to leave office after mounting criticism within their party in recent decades.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor, and Chris Heaton-Harris, the Chief Whip, were among the Cabinet figures who told Mr Johnson he had lost the support of his party. More than half a dozen cabinet figures made that argument.

Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, and Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, both were prepared to resign but held back to confront Mr Johnson. Last night they were both on resignation watch.

In total 42 Tory MPs have resigned from official positions in the last 48 hours. That included 17 government ministers quitting, 14 yesterday.

Graham Brady, the 1922 Committee chairman, yesterday told Mr Johnson that a second vote on his leadership could happen as early as next week, with a new 1922 executive voted in place on Monday and free to change the leadership rules on Tuesday. 

One Johnson ally said: “The prime minister has been saying the choice is not ‘me or not me’. The chance is to have a new PM and Chancellor spell out a new economic programme and a proper Conservative government.

“The alternative is pressing the button for three months of chaos as the party tears itself apart with no mandate. Labour will immediately demand an election, which this party will lose given the ‘coalition of chaos’ between Labour and the SNP and possible break up of Britain.”

The source summarised the message to Tory rebels as: “Stop thinking ‘this is Boris or no Boris’, or ‘topple Boris and this is all over’. Stick with this PM and a new Chancellor with a new economic programme. That is what is called for.”

Not everyone in the Cabinet turned on Mr Johnson yesterday. Both Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit minister, and Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary – two of Mr Johnson’s most loyal supporters – rushed to Number 10 to urge him to stay.

Figures close to cabinet ministers Liz Truss and Ben Wallace, who were travelling, declined to say whether they urged Mr Johnson privately to go.

Mr Zahawi also did not quit last night, despite warning the prime minister of the perilous political position. He was back in the Treasury and was working with Number 10 on a speech on a “new economic plan”, which will include tax cuts.

Mr Gove did tell Mr Johnson to resign. He held a five minute one-on-one meeting with the prime minister yesterday morning where he urged him to quit on his own terms before it was too late.

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Boris Johnson’s ally Priti Patel told him it was time to go. Photo: Dominic Lipinski

Downing Street critics pointed the finger at Mr Gove after four figures in his department quit yesterday afternoon, fuelling calls for Mr Johnson to go.

An ally of Mr Gove denied he was plotting and said he would “100 percent” not stand to be Tory leader if there was a contest.

Throughout the day a succession of ministers and parliamentary private secretaries resigned, many tweeting out letters with excoriating views of the prime minister.

Mr Johnson also had to endure two Tory MPs calling for him to go during Prime Minister’s Questions, after which he sat with his arms crossed as Sajid Javid, his former health secretary who quit on Tuesday, gave a speech in the Commons calling for the cabinet to act.

Yet during a two-hour grilling before the Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson declared he was having a “terrific” week and insisted his government was pushing ahead with “ever increasing energy”.

There were signs last night of the mass resignations making government difficult, with planned scrutiny of a piece of legislation with MPs cancelled because the minister in question had quit.

If Mr Johnson remains in post by early next week, rebels predicted the 1922 Committee will force a second leadership vote to oust him that way. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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