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UK government resignations top 50 as PM Boris Johnson clings to power


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a news conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 30, 2022.

Yves Herman | Reuters

LONDON — Over 50 members of parliament have resigned from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government since Tuesday, as the unprecedented revolt against the leader from within his own party continues.

After a torrent of resignations Wednesday, more ministers quit early on Thursday morning, including Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, Treasury Minister Helen Whately and Security Minister Damian Hinds.

A Sky News tally puts the total number of departures at 53 as of 8:15 a.m. London time.

The 50th resignation came from George Freeman, a junior minister for science, research and innovation, at around 7.20 a.m. London time. Pensions minister Guy Opperman resigned shortly after.

In a scathing resignation letter to the prime minister, Freeman said the “culmination of your lack of transparency and candour with Parliament (and willingness to ask your Ministers to mislead Parliament), your removal of key pillars of the Ministerial code, your handling of your appointment of a Deputy Chief Whip who it turns out you knew had a history of sexual abuse allegations, is too much.”

“This is seriously damaging public trust and respect for government, democracy and the law, and this great Party’s long tradition as the party of standards, character, conduct, integrity and duty to office and country before partisan self-interest,” he added.

Johnson met with remaining members of his cabinet on Wednesday night, many of whom are reported to have urged him to step down. CNBC has contacted Downing Street for comment. The prime minister has thus far refused calls to resign, vowing to “fight on.”

Johnson has been embroiled in a string of scandals and allegations of misleading the public, but the final straw for many MPs involves Conservative lawmaker Chris Pincher. The former deputy chief whip was suspended last week amid accusations that he drunkenly groped two men at a private members club.

Johnson on Tuesday apologized for appointing Pincher deputy chief whip — a senior party role — despite knowing of an investigation into his behavior in 2019.

The revelations that Johnson knew of misconduct allegations against Pincher prior to his appointment, and the repeated changes to the line coming from Number 10, prompted the resignations on Tuesday night of two top officials, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

In a resignation speech to parliament on Wednesday, Javid, also a former chancellor, said “treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.”

Johnson narrowly survived a confidence vote from Conservative MPs last month, but many of those previously backing his leadership have now abandoned their support.

Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull, told CNBC on Thursday that the challenge Johnson is facing this time around is different on account of the “huge proportion of the government payroll vote” that have resigned, characterizing the situation as “pretty seismic.”

This is a developing story and will be updated shortly.

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