'The lightweight brigade': Sir Keir blasts Tories loyal to PM for 'lack of self respect'

6 July 2022, 08:49 | Updated: 7 July 2022, 07:51

  • Johnson’s government hit by 50 resignations
  • Newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi says he still 'trusts' PM on LBC
  • PM’s leadership rocked by series of resignations last night
  • No10 indicates PM determined to continue in office
  • Johnson will appear before a committee of MPs this afternoon
17 MPS quit government as Boris faces a fight for his political survival
17 MPS quit government as Boris faces a fight for his political survival. Picture: Parliament TV

By Megan Hinton

Sir Keir Starmer said Tory MPs sticking by the scandal-hit PM were like 'the charge of the lightweight brigade' as he launched a stinging attack on Boris Johnson as he clings to power.

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At PMQs after Mr Johnson was hit by 17 resignations from Government, Sir Keir said the desertions from Government were like "sinking ships deserting the rat" accusing MPs who stick by the PM as having no "self respect".

He eviscerated the Cabinet, describing them as a "Z list cast of nodding dogs".

After reading out the testimony of the man who accused Tamworth MP Christopher Pincher of assault, Sir Keir said: "I accept that is not easy listening, but it is a reminder to all those propping up this Prime Minister just how serious this situation is.

"He knew the accused minister had previously committed predatory behaviour but he promoted him to a position of power anyway. Why?"

Boris Johnson replied that Mr Pincher no longer had his Government job, nor the Conservative whip.

The Prime Minister added: "I want to say to him that I abhor bullying and abuse of power anywhere in Parliament, in this party or in any other party."

Sir Keir Starmer continued to claim Boris Johnson "ignores" this "awful behaviour, unacceptable in any walk of life".

"It was the same when his home secretary was bullying staff, it was the same when tax payers money was being abused, and it was the same when he and his mates parties their way through lockdown," the Labour leader continued.

"Anyone quitting now after defending all that hasn't got a shred of integrity.

"Isn't this the first recorded case of the sinking ships fleeing the rats."

Children and families minister Mr Quince said he had "no choice" but to quit after he was forced on television to defend Boris Johnson using Downing Street briefings "which have now been found to be inaccurate".

Mr Quince said: "With great sadness and regret, I have this morning tendered my resignation to the prime minister after I accepted and repeated assurances on Monday to the media which have now been found to be inaccurate.

"I wish my successor well - it is the best job in government."

His letter said: "Dear Prime Minister. Thank you for meeting with me yesterday evening and for your sincere apology regarding the briefings I received from No 10 ahead of Monday's media round, which we now know to be inaccurate.

Read more: Tory MP: Leadership contest could begin 'within 24 hours'

Children and families minister Mr Quince said he had "no choice" but to quit
Children and families minister Mr Quince said he had "no choice" but to quit. Picture: Alamy

"It is with great sadness and regret that I feel that I have no choice but to tender my resignation as minister for children and families as I accepted and repeated those assurances in good faith.

"It has been an honour to serve in government since 2019 at both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education.

"Reaching this decision has not been easy. Stepping away from a job I love, where we are working every day to improve the life chances of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people up and down our country, pains me greatly.

"I will miss it hugely but pledge to do all I can to continue this important work from the backbenches.

"I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my sincere thanks to the hundreds of dedicated and hard-working civil servants with whom it has been a pleasure to work."

Reacting to his departure this morning, Mark Russell CEO of The Children's Society said: "I’m genuinely very sorry to see Will Quince resign as Children and Families Minister.

"We at The Children's Society have so valued his passion and dedication to his brief and his genuine heart to want to improve children’s lives. Thank you for all you’ve done in this vital role."

Jo Churchill has resigned as a minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In a tweet she said: "It is with a heavy heart that I have this morning tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister. I will not be doing media interviews on this matter."

Victoria Atkins has resigned as justice minister.

In her letter she says: "Values such as integrity, decency, respect and professionalism should matter to us all.

"I have watched with growing concern as those values have fractured under your leadership, through Patterson, Partygate and Pincher".

Felicity Buchan left government calling the "current situation untenable".

Announcing the news on Twitter she wrote: "It is with great sadness that I have tendered my resignation today as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy."

John Glen also announced he has quit as Economic Secretary to the Treasury stating "I can no longer reconcile my commitment to the role" with the "complete lack of confidence I have in your continuing leadership".

John Glen has quit as Economic Secretary to the Treasury
John Glen has quit as Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Picture: Gov.uk

His letter reads: "Recent events concerning the handling of the appointment of the former Deputy Chief Whip, and the poor judgement you have shown, have made it impossible for me to square continued service with my conscience.

"The country deserves better, and I must return to the backbenches to dedicate myself to the service of the people of Salisbury and South Wiltshire."

Minister for Schools Robin Walker also resigned this morning in his letter to the prime minister, he said: "Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear to me that our great party, for which I have campaigned all of my adult life, has become distracted from its core missions by a relentless focus on questions of leadership."

Laura Trott has also resigned from her role as parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Transport this morning.

Read more: Sunak and Javid didn’t take 'cowards way out,' insists Chancellor as PM fights to survive

Laura Trott has issued a letter of resignation
Laura Trott has issued a letter of resignation. Picture: Facebook

She said in a Facebook post: "Trust in politics is - and must always be - of the upmost importance, but sadly in recent months this has been lost.

"Thank you to all of you who have written to me expressing your views. I have read them carefully, and taken them into consideration as part of my decision.

"I have, and will always, put the residents of Sevenoaks and Swanley front and centre of my work in Westminster."

Chris Skidmore said the Prime Minister's actions were "tantamount to a cover-up of sexual abuse in the workplace".

Writing to 1922 member Graham Brady, the Tory MP said: "I no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister to lead the Conservative Party.

"Recent events have revealed that the Prime Minister repeatedly was informed and knew about allegations of sexual misconduct and previously upheld complaints against a member of the government.

"He subsequently took the decision to promote this person into position responsible for the welfare of the Conservative members of parliament.

"In response to these events the Prime Minister has not been truthful to the media to his own advisers and number 10 officials and to the party in disclosing what he knew.

"This is an extremely grave situation that is tantamount to an effective cover up of sexual abuse that would never be tolerated in any normal functioning workplace.

"The fact of this matter have only come to light after the previous vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister so stop then members of parliament voted to retain the Prime Minister without knowing what we know now.

"Had we known, it would be highly unlikely that the party would have confidence in someone who acted in this manner.

"It is vital therefore that the 1922 must now urgently reconsider the rules that prevent a new vote of no confidence from taking place.

"The Prime Minister has made its clear that he will not change. It is therefore time that we change the Prime Minister."

MP Lee Anderson submitted a letter of no confidence this morning to the PM writing: "I do not hold a position I can resign from so the only thing I can do is make my feelings known to my constituents and party members.

"This statement may upset some people and I am sure some people will be delighted with the demise of our PM but I have a job to do and I must do it with a clear conscience."

Tory MP Robert Halfon also submitted a letter of no confidence in the PM.

The chair of the Education Select Committee said he had given the "benefit of the doubt" to Boris Johnson but explained recent events were "unacceptable".

Adding: "Much policy delivery is a mirage. There is little trust in the prime minister".

Whilst Simon Hoar announced he has written to Graham Brady "asking for a rule change governing the holding of confidence votes and a further confidence vote to be held".

He added: "Change is needed and needed now: for the sake of our country, my constituents and my party."

Boris Johnson was dealt the biggest blow of his premiership by the resignations of two senior cabinet ministers on Tuesday evening in the wake of his handling of the row over scandal-hit former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.

A humiliating apology from the Prime Minister failed to prevent the departure of Rishi Sunak as chancellor and Sajid Javid as health secretary.

Mr Javid said he "can no longer continue in good conscience", adding: "I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their Government. The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.

"Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.

"Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree.

"I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership - and you have therefore lost my confidence too."

Read more: 'It was the wrong thing to do': PM admits it was a 'mistake' to promote Pincher

Steve Barclay has been appointed by the PM as the Health Secretary whilst Universities Minister Michelle Donelan also took on a fresh role, replacing Mr Zahawi as Education Secretary.

Mr Sunak said in his letter of resignation that the "public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously", adding that "our approaches are fundamentally too different".

He added: "I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it's not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one...

"I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this."

In his first morning round of interviews after the newly appointed Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi told Tom Swarbrick at Breakfast on LBC this morning that he didn't believe Mr Sunak and Mr Javid took a 'coward's way out.'

"I genuinely think this is not the time to divide, this is the time to come together and deliver for the country.

"Turning on one another does not deliver additional pounds into people’s accounts."

Asked whether he thought the PM would change his ways, Mr Zahawi said: "It’s good leadership to come out and say I made a mistake and I’m sorry for that.

"The PM is right to apologise. We make decisions at warp speed. He very openly said with the benefit of hindsight… I made a mistake.

"When the PM realised he had made a mistake, he came out and explained that. I think that’s good leadership."

Asked how anyone can 'trust a word' that comes out of Downing Street, Mr Zahawi said: "I trust the word of a PM who is big enough to come out and apologise."

Conservative grievances with Mr Johnson have been mounting since a different row over standards in public life and Mr Johnson's handling of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

The PM recently faced off a no confidence vote but it appears support in his leadership is dwindling further.

Read more: Read Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid's resignation letters in full

Boris Johnson has now also faced a wave of resignations by more junior members in his Government.

Which MPs have announced their decision to quit Mr Johnson's government?

Cabinet

  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Quit last night writing: “The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.“I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

  • Health Secretary Sajid Javid

Left the government last night within minutes of the Chancellor, writing: “I regret that I can no longer continue in good conscience.”

Ministers

  • Will Quince, education minister

Resigned this morning after being sent out on TV to defend the PM days ago, saying Downing Street briefings "have now been found to be inaccurate".

  • Alex Chalk, solicitor general

The most high-profile of the resignations from outside of the Cabinet, Mr Chalk said that he could not "defend the indefensible".

  • Robin Walker, schools minister

Minister for Schools Robin Walker said: "Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear to me that our great party, for which I have campaigned all of my adult life, has become distracted from its core missions by a relentless focus on questions of leadership."

  • Stuart Andrew, housing minister

The MP for Pudsey said he has "no other choice than to resign".

"Loyalty and unity are traits that I have always endeavoured to provide for our great party. However, I fear I have let these override my judgement recently. There comes a time when you have to look at your own personal integrity and that time is now."

  • Jo Churchill, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister

The junior minister said "the country and party deserves better", and a "clear, self-less vision is needed".

  • Victoria Atkins, Home Office minister

The MP for Louth and Horncastle wrote: "The casual mistreatment of Minister Will Quince and the revelations contained in Lord McDonald's letter highlight just how far your government has fallen from these ideals. I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values. We can and must be better than this."

  • John Glen, City minister and economic secretary to the Treasury

The Tory MP for Salisbury said Boris Johnson's "poor judgement" made it "impossible for me to square continued service with my conscience" in his resignation letter.

  • Kemi Badenoch, minister for levelling up, equalities
  • Neil O'Brien, minister for levelling up, housing and communities
  • Lee Rowley, minister for industry
  • Alex Burghart, minister for skills
  • Julia Lopez, minister for media, data and digital infrastructure
  • Mims Davies, employment minister

The Mid Sussex MP resigned saying the Conservative Party needed a "fresh start".

Parliamentary private secretaries

  • Jonathan Gullis, Northern Ireland Office

In a statement, Mr Gullis tendered his resignation "with a heavy heart", adding that his party has been "more focused on dealing with our reputational damage rather than delivering for the people of this country".

  • Saqib Bhatti, Department of Health and Social Care

Mr Bhatti quit his role with a statement that "recent events have undermined trust and standards in public life".

  • Nicola Richards, Department of Transport

Ms Richards said in a statement that she could not serve "under the current circumstances".

  • Virginia Crosbie, Welsh Office

Ms Crosbie said in a Facebook post that if Mr Johnson is left in office, he will "irrevocably" harm the Government and the Conservative Party.

  • Laura Trott, Department of Transport

She said in a Facebook post: "Trust in politics is - and must always be - of the upmost importance, but sadly in recent months this has been lost.

  • Selaine Saxby, HM Treasury

In her resignation letter, she said: "Inaction is indeed action, and my silence is not compatible with my views or position."

  • Claire Coutinho, HM Treasury
  • David Johnston, Department of Education
  • Felicity Buchan, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Others

  • Bim Afolami, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party for youth

Speaking to Talk TV, Mr Afolami announced that he too would have to step down, adding: "I just don't think the Prime Minister any longer has, not just my support, but he doesn't have, I don't think, the support of the party, or indeed the country any more."

  • Andrew Murrison, trade envoy to Morocco

In a letter calling for Mr Johnson to resign, Mr Murrison quit his job, saying that the PM's position had become "unrecoverable".

  • Theodora Clarke, trade envoy to Kenya

The Stafford MP resigned from her position as trade envoy to Kenya with a statement which said she takes "allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously" and that the Prime Minister had shown a "severe lack of judgment and care" for his parliamentary party.