Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was battling for his political survival on Tuesday when two senior ministers in his Conservative government unexpectedly resigned their cabinet posts in what appeared to be a coordinated move against their leader.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, both quit over the latest scandal to raise questions about Mr. Johnson’s judgment and honesty. They announced their decisions shortly after Mr. Johnson apologized for appointing a minister, Chris Pincher, who last week quit his job over allegations of inappropriate behavior.
The resignations thrust Mr. Johnson into the most perilous position of his three-year tenure as prime minister, following a series of crises that forced him to survive a vote of no confidence last month.
Last month, Mr. Johnson narrowly survived a vote of confidence among his own lawmakers and, unless the party’s rules are changed, he cannot face another contest for a year. That means that resignations from the cabinet could be the only effective method of putting pressure on Mr. Johnson to resign.
“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” said Mr. Sunak in a statement. “I recognize this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Mr. Pincher resigned his position as deputy chief whip last week after admitting to having been drunk at a private members club in London where he reportedly touched two men inappropriately. He was suspended from the Conservative Party while the allegations are being investigated but has not resigned as a member of Parliament.
On Tuesday, Downing Street admitted that Mr. Johnson had been told about previous allegations against Mr. Pincher in 2019 — something that Mr. Johnson’s office had initially denied.
The outcry over the circumstances of the appointment of Mr. Pincher — and Downing Street’s account of it — is just the latest in a series of scandals surrounding Mr. Johnson. Earlier this year, he was fined by the police for breaking his own lockdown rules in Downing Street, in which members of his staff were found to have held a number of alcohol-fueled parties.
In his resignation statement, Mr. Javid said that he could “no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this government.” The public, he added, expects “government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.”
The reaction of fellow Conservative lawmakers in the moments after the resignations signaled a serious threat to Mr. Johnson’s leadership.
“I voted against Boris Johnson in the recent confidence vote, and earlier today reiterated my concerns,” Laurence Robertson, a veteran Conservative lawmaker wrote in a post on Twitter. “Resignations of Cabinet Ministers show others agree the issues over the past months have become a distraction from the challenges facing the country. The PM must now resign.”
Mark Harper, a Conservative lawmaker who had already called on Mr. Johnson to stand aside, praised the two cabinet ministers for showing leadership. These were “honorable decisions made by honorable men,” said Mr. Harper, a former chief whip in a Twitter post.
“The Conservative Party still has so much to offer to our country. It’s time for a fresh start,” he added.
The resignation of two such senior ministers is unprecedented in recent years and has echoes of the dramas that led to the ouster of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1990.
The anger among some of his own lawmakers over Mr. Johnson’s behavior was evident earlier in Parliament when a minister, Michael Ellis, explained that — contrary to Downing Street’s earlier explanation — the prime minister had been told in 2019 about allegations against Mr. Pincher but had forgotten.
One Conservative lawmaker William Wragg, said that the official account of what happened “changes seemingly by the hour” and that the government appeared to have “lost its sense of direction.” Opposition lawmakers laughed when Mr. Ellis insisted that the prime minister had acted with “probity at all times.”
Speaking later to the B.B.C., Mr. Johnson admitted it was “a mistake” to make Mr. Pincher deputy chief whip given the complaints about his conduct. “With hindsight it is the wrong thing to do and I apologize to everyone who has been badly affected by it,” he added