Boris Johnson confirms he is resigning as PM but will stay until new leader found

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports on the dramatic resignation of Boris Johnson as Conservative leader after a series of ministers told him he had lost the support of the party

Boris Johnson has announced he is stepping down as prime minister, in a resignation speech delivered from Downing Street, but will remain in post until a new leader is found.

The outgoing PM promised his newly formed Cabinet that he will not use his remaining time in office to make "major changes of direction".

Reports suggest he wants to stay on until the Conservative Party conference in October, but some Tories are wanting him to step aside within weeks, rather than months.

The PM said the process for finding his new replacement should begin "immediately" and a timetable for doing so will be announced next week.

Announcing his resignation outside Number 10, with his wife Carrie watching, the PM said he wanted Britons to "know how sad [he is] to be giving up the best job in the world - but them's the breaks".

He told the nation he'd decided to step down after failing to convince his Cabinet he should stay.

"I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we're delivering so much," he said, adding: "I regret not to have been successful in those arguments."

The outgoing prime minister appeared to show little contrition over the circumstances which led to his resignations, suggesting he'd been forced out by a "herd instinct" in Westminster which was too "powerful" to resist.

Despite plans to continue for three more months, senior Tories and opposition MPs are urging him to step aside much sooner.

A senior party organiser told Robert Peston that the most likely procedure will be for MPs to whittle down candidates over the next two weeks and then the top two would go through to a ballot of party members over the summer.

This means we would have a new PM in September, though this crowning could be delayed up until November.

Sir John Major, a former Tory prime minister, has suggested cutting out the party members in the selection process, so a new PM could be chosen in July, but this is unlikely to happen. The previous contest took six weeks to conclude.

"I think he is going to be there for probably a couple of months as a minimum. I am absolutely certain that he is going to be there in July. Why is that? Because he wants to use his Chequers grace and favour home for a wedding party," ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reported.

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One former minister who recently resigned from Cabinet told ITV News Mr Johnson should step down now while Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, tweeted to say a new leader must be found "as soon as practicable".

Sir John has written to the chair of the 1922 Committee, effectively the parliamentary party's HR department, and the only Tory body which has the power to remove Mr Johnson against his will, saying it would be "unwise" to allow him to remain prime minister.

"For the overall wellbeing of the country, Mr Johnson should not remain in Downing Street", he said, and suggested an interim premier or a streamlined election process would be "in the national interest".

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, would be an obvious choice for a caretaker PM but he would need to be nominated by Mr Johnson and that is highly unlikely.

Potential contenders to replace the PM have already thrown their hat into the ring, including Attorney General Suella Braverman, who last night told Peston she would run, and Tom Tugendhat is also understood to be entering the race.

The PM - who has been under intense pressure to quit since the first Cabinet walkouts on Tuesday - said on Wednesday that he intended to "keep going" in the role - however it appears the pressure may have been too much.

A government source said the PM had reflected overnight and decided to resign after waking “with a clarity of thought".

Boris Johnson embraces his wife Carrie, son Wilfred and daughter Romy. Credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Just minutes before his resignation speech, Mr Johnson began announcing new Cabinet and ministerial positions after more than 50 MPs quit government over his leadership.

The outgoing PM spoke to the Queen ahead of his speech as a courtesy to inform her of his plans, Number 10 sources said.

In order to remain as PM until a successor is found, Mr Johnson will need a functioning government around him, something he will be unable to form if he cannot fill the vacant roles.

Already James Cleverly has been appointed education secretary. Kit Malthouse has been made chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, the most senior minister in the Cabinet Office after the prime minister, and a number of other appointments have been made.

Boris Johnson told his hastily formed cabinet that the government will now focus on the agenda on which it was elected, and not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction.

In a statement, No 10 said: “The prime minister opened Cabinet by welcoming those returning or joining for the first time. “He said his priority would now be to continue delivering on manifesto pledges and making sure the government is on the side of the public, on the cost of energy, transport and housing and all else that matters to them. “He made clear the government would not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction, rather it would focus on delivering the agenda on which the Government was elected.

"He said major fiscal decisions should be left for the next prime minister.”

What led to Boris Johnson's resignation?

It became crystal clear the end was nigh on Thursday morning when the new chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, made the remarkable move of urging his boss to go, just 24 hours after accepting the job, which was made vacant by Rishi Sunak's resignation.

Michelle Donelan, perhaps the UK's shortest ever reigning education secretary, resigned from the role just one day after accepting Mr Zahawi's previous job.

An avalanche of government resignations was sparked on Tuesday evening by Sajid Javid's resignation as health secretary, which was quickly followed by Mr Sunak quitting as chancellor.

Since Tuesday evening more than 50 MPs have quit government or party posts.

Almost all of those who stepped down cited issues with Mr Johnson's integrity, referring to scandals such as Partygate and the more recent Chris Pincher controversy, however, some pointed to issues with the government's LGBT+ policies.

It appears the final straw for many was Mr Johnson's handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Pincher, who resigned after reportedly "groping" two men last week.

Mr Johnson apologised for hiring Mr Pincher as deputy chief whip despite being aware of allegations against him on Tuesday, but moments later Mr Javid and Mr Sunak walked out.

He said sorry again on Wednesday at PMQs but by then the mood appeared to have completely turned against him.

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Could Mr Johnson be forced out sooner than October?

Although Mr Johnson hopes to stay prime minister until October, there are mechanisms to remove him sooner.

The parliamentary Tory party's governing body, the 1922 Committee, has power over the decision on when to elect a new leader, not the prime minister.

Despite Mr Johnson's desire to stay on, the committee could agree on Monday to streamline the process, meaning a replacement could be found much sooner than October.

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A six-week timetable - starting with the MPs whittling down the candidates to two and ending with the membership picking the winner - would see a new PM elected by the start of September.

Even if this doesn't happen, the PM could bow to political pressure and volunteer to leave immediately and let a caretaker PM stand in.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson must not be allowed to "cling on" in No 10 and threatened to use a Commons confidence motion to oust him.

Tory MPs could vote with the opposition to try to force him out, but that risks a general election which the party does not want.

How could MPs force Mr Johnson out sooner than October?

Can government continue to function?

MPs across the House of Commons are urging the prime minister to step aside immediately so a new government can form and resume running the country.

With so few ministers still appointed, critics of the PM's plan to stay on say it will be impossible for Parliament to function because there will be no one to represent government policies and stand up to scrutiny.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner asked "how will a half-empty Cabinet run the country until October?" And said even if Boris Johnson goes "it's the same old Tory party in government".

She said: "The prime minister has said he will stay on as caretaker. How many more months of chaos does this country have to endure?

"They will try desperately to change the person at the top, but it's the same old Tory party in government," she added.

But Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis insisted in the Commons that "business of government continues, supported in the usual way by our excellent civil service".