Britain’s political landscape was rocked by the shocking resignation of Boris Johnson, the former Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. This development comes amidst the “partygate” scandal, which has engulfed the UK government in controversy. Johnson’s decision to step down as a Member of Parliament on June 9 took many by surprise, including his own party.
In addition to Johnson’s resignation, two other Members of Parliament also announced their departure, triggering three immediate by-elections across the country. These by-elections have the potential to reveal the waning popularity of the Rishi Sunak government and the Conservative Party in the UK.
Johnson’s decision to resign came following the release of the findings from the Parliament’s Privileges Committee investigation into whether he had misled lawmakers regarding Covid-19 rule breaches by government officials. Although the report’s details have not been made public, Johnson labeled it a “political hit job” in his scathing resignation letter. He criticized the parliamentary committee, referring to it as a “kangaroo court,” suggesting that he had been unfairly targeted for his own Covid-19 social distancing regulation violations.
While Johnson’s immediate political career has come to an end, he hinted at the possibility of a return in the future. “It is very sad to be leaving parliament – at least for now,” he expressed in his resignation statement.
The “partygate” scandal that led to Johnson’s downfall as Prime Minister and as an MP centers around illicit parties and gatherings held by government and Conservative Party staff during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, when such gatherings were prohibited by public health restrictions.
Adding to the political turmoil, Nadine Dorries, a prominent ally of Boris Johnson, also resigned from her Mid Bedfordshire seat after being denied a peerage in Johnson’s resignation honors list. Nigel Adams followed suit, announcing his immediate resignation from the UK parliament, which triggered a third by-election.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now faces the daunting task of defending three Conservative Party seats amidst growing dissatisfaction among British residents towards the party. These by-elections could hinder Sunak’s ambitions of narrowing the gap with the opposition Labour Party ahead of the general election scheduled for January 2025.
Retaining the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat may prove particularly challenging for Sunak, as the Tories won the Greater London constituency by a relatively slim majority in 2019.
It is worth noting that both Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, the former Health Secretary, previously resigned from their respective positions in protest against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership. The series of resignations from Johnson’s cabinet, combined with the partygate scandal allegations, ultimately led to his own resignation as Prime Minister. Johnson had previously attributed his downfall to opponents of Brexit and directed criticisms at the Labour Party, Sunak, and Sue Gray, the civil servant whose investigation into Partygate played a significant role in his political downfall.
Looking ahead to the 2025 UK elections, the Conservative Party suffered significant losses in the local elections held in May, with the Liberal Democrats making substantial gains in southern England. The Lib Dems have also achieved notable victories over the Tories in recent special elections. Current opinion polls indicate that Labour holds a lead of between 9 and 14 points, although this falls short of the more than 20-point lead they had in late 2022. The political landscape in the UK remains uncertain, with the upcoming elections poised to bring about further changes and potential shifts in power.