Boris Johnson's resignation caps off tumultuous tenure
( Fox )
Boris Johnson announced plans to resign as prime minister of the United Kingdom on Thursday in a tumultuous end for a government that once enjoyed a strong democratic mandate.
Johnson’s roughly three-year tenure ended in disarray after he threatened a standoff with his party and a possible general election following the resignation of 42 ministers who deemed his position "untenable." He says new leadership is "clearly now the will" of Parliament.
Johnson hopes to remain in a caretaker position as his Conservative Party elects a new prime minister, a process that may take roughly two months.
"I have appointed a new cabinet who will serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place," he said. "When the herd instinct moves, it moves."
Conservative ministers declared that they had lost confidence in the prime minister after news emerged he had elevated Chris Pincher to the powerful role of deputy chief whip despite allegations of sexual misconduct.
But it was not the only scandal that Johnson’s government had to wrangle with. It was merely the final one that ministers could tolerate, bringing an end to his sole ambition and goal in politics.
"Boris Johnson’s place in history is assured given his stewardship of Brexit, vaccine rollout during the COVID-19 crisis and staunch defense of the free world in Ukraine," Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital.
"His personal foibles were known to all before he came to office and have always been part and parcel of his offering. They will not affect the reality that he has got the big calls right and has always confounded his critics in doing so."
The prime minister also had displayed Churchillian support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion, earning him plaudits at a time when he otherwise struggled for positive press. The highs and lows of his run to the leadership — and his eventual fall — will ensure he remains a figure of enduring fascination and interest in both British and global politics.
Johnson rose to prominence as a political columnist for The Daily Telegraph and later editor of The Spectator before winning the election to Parliament in 2001 as the Member of Parliament (MP) of Henley. He won the election for Mayor of London in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. During that time, he enjoyed a healthy public image as an affable man of the people.
He famously engaged in a series of publicity stunts, such as zip lining through Victoria Park to help celebrate and promote the London Olympics in 2012. He became stuck halfway along the line with plastic Union Jack flags in hand.
The mayor’s willingness to engage in any form of publicity endeared him to many, even as others worried he was something of a buffoon and unfit to continue leading.
His tenure ended in 2016 following the election of former transport minister Sadiq Khan. Johnson chose not to pursue a third term and instead focus on parliamentary endeavors. He immediately found his place in Theresa May’s government as secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs and winning a new seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Johnson achieved his most high-profile platform to date as a leading figure in the pro-Brexit movement, pushing for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. He favored a "no-deal" exit from the union, which many criticized as laying the groundwork for chaos, but he stayed his course and refused to compromise.
Johnson had the chance to take full control of those negotiations after leading a vote to oust then-Prime Minister Theresa May and winning control of both the party and the country in 2019. His government got off to a strong start as negotiators secured a post-Brexit free trade deal with the EU shortly before the Jan. 1 2021 deadline, which Johnson claimed had given the U.K. control over its future.
"It achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable, but they were told was impossible. We've taken back control of our laws and our destiny, we've taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered," he said at a news conference in London.
But the good feelings did not last as Johnson’s government almost immediately faced the challenge of managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson pursued strict lockdown measures but faced a constant back and forth over his support for such policies as time went on. He initially claimed that the virus would disappear after 12 weeks and reintroduced measures after initially removing them too quickly.
Johnson himself endured an extreme case of the virus after testing positive in May 2020. He at one point had to take oxygen and faced a "50-50" chance of intubation — a point of no return for the virus — but was able to recover thanks to the "wonderful, wonderful nursing" he received.
He led the charge to return to normal by lifting all restrictions in February this year despite warnings from other countries and officials, ending all contact tracing and supplying free tests as needed to the public.
And he also gained stirring plaudits for his support of Ukraine during the Russian invasion, even visiting Kyiv to meet personally with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a display of confidence that the country had regained control of its capital and some sense of safety again.
The visit prompted praise and comparisons to Churchill, with some saying Johnson had "the courage of a lion" and showed what "real democracy" looked like.
"This is what courage looks like," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted along with a video of the two leaders walking the streets of Kyiv. "This is what true friendship between peoples and between nations looks like."
But those would appear to be the final strokes of good press that Johnson would enjoy as the final months of his government struggled against the weight of a series of scandals that had started with the pandemic itself.
Revelations of wild parties in government offices during the strictest lockdown measures drew strong anger from the public. The "Partygate" fiasco revealed a culture of partying and rule breaking throughout the pandemic, with senior civil servant Sue Gray calling the gatherings "a serious failure" to observe the standards expected of those working in government.
Johnson’s ability to deflect the most serious scandals — which some compared to political Teflon — started to fail him as he could not dismiss or duck the outcry over the parties.
The scandal resulted in the worst polling figures in years for the Conservative Party, showing in May that if a general election occurred, the party would lose control of the government. The scandals and new data prompted a "no confidence" vote, but Johnson survived one last time.
He immediately faced two fresh controversies that appeared to completely destroy any remaining faith and support he had. A report by Private Eye alleged that aides walked in on Johnson receiving oral sex from then-aide and future wife Carrie Symonds in 2018 while he served as foreign secretary. There was also the sex scandal involving Pinter.
Both revelations, which surfaced around the end of June, served a death blow to Johnson’s position as he failed to convince those around him he remained capable of leading the country.
The swift resignations and the lack of support from party backbenchers was too much for even the Teflon minister to deflect, ending his reign. Nile Gardiner, director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, said the Conservative Party has taken "a big leap in the dark" with Johnson's resignation.
"I think that Boris Johnson, clearly at his height, was a very popular figure with the British people as we saw with the 2019 general election," Gardiner told Fox News Digital. "He defied all odds to win a historic victory by a huge majority.
"And Boris was able to tap into the spirit of the British people who want to leave the European Union. I think Boris has that extraordinary ability to be able to connect with the British people."