Seven more ministers have resigned on Thursday, plunging Boris Johnson’s government into further disarray.
The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis; the security minister, Damian Hinds, the science minister George Freeman, the Treasury minister Helen Whatley, the pensions minister Guy Opperman, the technology minister Chris Philp and the courts’ minister James Cartlidge all handed in their notice early on Thursday morning.
Lewis told the prime minister that government requires “honesty, integrity and mutual respect”.
In his resignation letter, he told Johnson he had “given you, and those around you, the benefit of the doubt”.
“I have gone out and defended this government both publicly and privately. We are, however, now past the point of no return. I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now. It is clear that our party, parliamentary colleagues, volunteers and the whole country, deserve better.”
Lewis’s resignation was swiftly followed by Whatley’s. The Treasury minister told Johnson there “are only so many times you can apologise and move on”.
Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said: “With sincere regret I am resigning from HM government. I stood for parliament because I want to make our country a better place … Your vision for our country and your mission to level up has inspired and galvanised people.
“As exchequer secretary I have seen this in practice and been proud to play a part. I have argued that you should continue as prime minister many times in recent months, but there are only so many times you can apologise and move on. That point has been reached.”
Hinds, MP for East Hampshire, was the third minister to go on Thursday, saying there had been a “serious erosion” of standards.
He wrote: “More important than any government or leader are the standards we uphold in public life and faith in our democracy and public administration. Because of the serious erosion in these, I have come to the conclusion that the right thing for our country and our party is for you to stand down, as party leader and prime minister.”
“I had hoped you would take this course sooner, on your own volition. But as it has become clear that you still intend to stay, I cannot continue to serve in your administration.”
Freeman, minister for science, research and innovation, wrote “Enough is enough. This can’t go on. The chaos in No 10, the breakdown of cabinet collective responsibility, the abandonment of the ministerial code, the defence of impropriety and defiance of parliament are all insults to the Conservatism I believe in and stand for.”
Lewis told the prime minister he was submitting his resignation with “regret”, but said that a divided Conservative party cannot win elections.
The Northern Ireland secretary, who took over the role in early 2020, told Boris Johnson the government had taken “huge strides to level up the economy of Northern Ireland and have not shied away from taking other difficult decisions; confronting the practical issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, advocating for the reproductive rights of women and championing the benefits of integrated education for all”.
He continued: “A decision to leave government is never taken lightly, particularly at such a critical time for Northern Ireland. I have taken a lot of time to consider this decision, having outlined my position to you at length last night.”
Lewis told the prime minister that in recent months, the Conservative party had been “relentlessly on the defensive, consumed by introspection and in-fighting.
“A divided party cannot win elections. It cannot deliver for those who trusted us with their votes for the first time in 2019.”
The resignations early on Thursday came just hours after the former Johnson ally Suella Braverman, the attorney general, also publicly urged the prime minister to go.
Johnson rejected calls to quit on Wednesday and dramatically sacked his cabinet rival Michael Gove. He was later hit with the departure of a third cabinet minister – the Welsh secretary, Simon Hart.
Johnson met ministers in No 10 on Wednesday, where he was told he has lost the confidence of the Conservative party and should not continue in office – but refused to listen. Gove is thought to have told the prime minister on Wednesday morning that it was time for him to quit.
That was followed by a delegation of cabinet ministers going to Downing Street to tell Johnson he should stand down after losing the trust of his MPs. They were reported to have included the home secretary, Priti Patel, the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, Lewis and Hart.
Allies including the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, and the Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, remained supportive of the prime minister.