BORIS Johnson faced a tsunami of calls to resign yesterday but was still clinging on by his fingertips last night after insisting: “I’m going nowhere”.
In a day of the highest political drama, the PM refused to go despite 42 Tories standing down from the frontbench.
Home Secretary Patel and Transport Secretary Shapps pleaded with him to make a “dignified exit” for the sake of his party and country.
Deputy PM Dominic Raab even went to tell embattled Mr Johnson that he risked putting the Queen in an intolerable position if he defied his colleagues and tried to call a snap election to stay as leader.
But despite evoking the monarch, flag and party, their pleas fell on deaf ears. Mr Johnson was defiant — some would say deluded — and vowed to stay on.
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He is said to have told them: “The choice is not Boris or no Boris. The choice is a Conservative government with a new Chancellor who will soon outline a new economic programme — of tax cuts, deregulation and the benefits of Brexit — or three months of tearing each other apart.”
He said that if his party knifed him, they risked an election “which the Conservatives would lose to a coalition of chaos” of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP.
This would, he insisted, “break up Britain and leave Conservatives out of power for a long time”.
And he thundered: “I was put here by 14million people — I am not going anywhere.
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Mr Johnson said he would call the Tory rebels’ bluff and stay and fight a confidence vote.
He was with his most-trusted team 30 minutes later preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions when Michael Gove told him: “Your time is up.”
Mr Johnson was having none of it and is said to have told them: “If the party wants to overthrow the elected will of the people, they have to dip their hands in blood.”
Across Westminster, his loyal supporters started to melt away.
Red Wall MP Lee Anderson said: “I cannot look myself in the mirror and accept this.”
Tom Hunt raged: “Events of the past week have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back.”
Then came the dreaded PMQs, with row upon row of ashen-faced Tories sat silently, arms crossed. Several spoke.
Tim Loughton asked: “Does the Prime Minister think there are any circumstances in which he should resign?”
Gary Sambrook said of the PM: “He constantly tries to deflect from the issue, always tries to blame other people for mistakes.”
Labour and SNP MPs applauded. Mr Johnson shrugged his shoulders and blundered on.
Veteran Tory David Davis urged the PM to “put the interests of the nation before his own interests, before, in his own words, it does become ‘impossible’ for government to do its job.”
The PM’s predecessor, Theresa May, seemed to be enjoying matters. Earlier, she was spotted skipping round parliament and speculating that Mr Johnson may “only have hours” left in No10.
As the PM flailed, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised cheers and smiles with his description of the Cabinet as being the “charge of the lightweight brigade”.
Then came Sajid Javid’s resignation statement. The former Health Secretary said his boss had to go and added: “Enough is enough”.
It appeared Mr Johnson felt the same way. He darted out to prepare for a grilling by a powerful committee of MPs
The Quit Squad, led by Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris, assembled in Downing Street ready to ambush him on his return.
Grant Shapps, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart and Leader of the House Mark Spencer lay in wait.
But their trap was exposed during the committee meeting at which the PM spoke about his plans for the future.
Asked if he had the bodies to replace the quitting ministers, he simply said: “There is a wealth of talent!”
Meanwhile, 400 miles away in a Belfast airport lounge, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was asked by a fellow passenger if the game was up for the PM.
He replied: “Yup” before chatting with recently ousted DUP boss Dame Arlene Foster — presumably to take some advice to the PM.
Back in the corridors of Westminster, Tory MPs discussed how to rapidly change party rules so they could call a no confidence vote in the PM.
And as they did so, details of the stinging resignation letters began to emerge.
Former Children and Families Minister Mr Quince said he could not accept being sent out to defend the PM on television with inaccurate information over the Chris Pincher row.
He described No10’s take on the Deputy Chief Whip’s behaviour in the Carlton Club as a “crass and insensitive interpretation”.
Former Justice Minister Victoria Atkins told the PM: “I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values.
We can and must do better than this.” Jo Churchill, who resigned as Environment Minister, said of her leader: “A jocular self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations.”
Rachel Maclean, who announced her resignation as a Home Office minister while the PM was with the Liaison Committee of senior MPs, said Mr Johnson should “resign for the good of the country and our party”.
Ruth Edwards accused him of turning “a blind eye to allegations of sexual assault”.
THE TORY MINISTERS WHO QUIT ON WEDNESDA
8:14am: Laura Trott quits as Transport Parliamentary Private Secretary.
8:25: Will Quince, above, resigns as Department for Education Minister for Children & Families.
9:50: Robin Walker resigns as DfE Minister for School Standards.
11:05: Felicity Buchan resigns as a PPS at Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
11:07: John Glen resigns as Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
11:33: Victoria Atkins resigns as a Justice Minister.
12:05pm: Jo Churchill quits as a Defra minister.
12:42: Stuart Andrew resigns as Housing Minister.
13:33: Three more PPS resignations: Claire Coutinho, Treasury; Selaine Saxby, Treasury; David Johnston, Education.
14:26: Joint resignation by five ministers: Kemi Badenoch, Equalities; Neil O’Brien, Local Government; Alex Burghart, Education; Lee Rowley, BEIS; Julia Lopez, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
14:34: Mims Davies resigns as DWP Employment Minister.
15:14: Duncan Baker resigns as PPS at Local Government.
15:18: Fay Jones says she will resign as a PPS at the Leader of the Commons if Boris is not gone by the end of the day.
15:23: Craig Williams resigns as PPS at the Treasury.
15:34: Mark Logan resigns as a PPS at Northern Ireland.
15:38: Rachel Maclean resigns as the Home Office minister for Safeguarding.
16:10: Mike Freer resigns as Trade & Equalities Minister.
16:33: Mark Fletcher resigns as PPS at BEIS.
16:45: Sara Britcliffe resigns as a PPS at education.
16:56: Kwasi Kwarteng says he has lost confidence in Mr Johnson.
17:19: Peter Gibson resigns as a Trade PPS.
17:24: Ruth Edwards resigns as a Scotland PPS.
17:25: James Sunderland resigns as a Defra PPS.
18:11: David Duguid quits as the Fisheries Envoy and Trade Envoy for Angola and Zambia.
20:45: Jacob Young resigns as PPS at Local Government.