London – British prime minister Boris Johnson vowed on Wednesday to fight on and not give in to a chorus of calls for him to resign, but his defiant pledge to keep going was met with derision and disregard from a mounting number of his own lawmakers.
With the tide of resignations rising to more than 30, some questioned whether Johnson could fill those vacancies at a time when the government needs to tackle a cost-of-living crisis and support an economy heading for a slowdown, possibly a recession.
But despite being all but fatally wounded by a wave of resignations of senior colleagues and junior ministers who said he was not fit to govern, Johnson sought to come out fighting at parliament’s weekly prime minister’s questions session.
He later attended a bizarre session of the so-called liaison committee, where it was almost business as usual as he was questioned by senior lawmakers from across the political spectrum over his government’s policies and future plans.
Arriving in parliament for the appearance, he responded to questions over whether he would quit with the words: “No, no, no.”
Johnson’s immediate fate could be decided as soon as later on Wednesday at a meeting of the so-called 1922 Committee that sets the rules for leadership confidence votes.
A spokesperson said Johnson was confident he would win a confidence motion.
“Frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Earlier, he tried to reassert his authority by quickly appointing Nadhim Zahawi, a rising star in the Conservative Party widely credited for the successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, as finance minister.
But Johnson’s performance in parliament encountered a brutal response.
Underlining the tenuous position he is in, some colleagues in his cabinet team of top ministers struggled to contain their laughter as the opposition Labour leader poked fun at his cabinet for being in the “charge of the lightweight brigade”.
Three members of Johnson’s own party asked whether he would resign.
“Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we’ve been given then I would,” Johnson said.
Overall, it was a muted performance for a prime minister who has seen his political fortunes tumble from a landslide election victory three years ago to now, when the resignation of his finance and health ministers opened the floodgates for more junior ministers to quit.
Standing in the backbenches, his former health minister, Sajid Javid, detailed the scandals, mis-steps and gaffes that have marked Johnson’s tenure so far.
“At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that point is now,” Javid told a silent parliament, with Johnson listening stony-faced.