LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to announce Thursday that he would resign, having spent days defying calls for him to stand down from dozens of fellow Conservative Party members and even senior ministers he had only appointed within the last 36 hours.
On Thursday morning there was a quiet anticipation outside No.10 Downing Street, the gated official residence and office of the prime minister, with the country glued to TV screens and Twitter updates to see whether Johnson could be convinced to give in and go.
After a fresh wave of high-profile resignations, U.K. media including the BBC reported that Johnson had finally agreed to resign.
NBC News has not verified the reports, but a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed that Johnson would make a statement to the country later today.
In a remarkable twist, Johnson was abandoned by the finance minister and education minister he had just promoted in a bid to hold on. They were joined by a succession of other ministers — leaving the government virtually rudderless as it faces some of its most serious crises in decades.
As the resignations continued to roll in, the prime minister remained cloistered inside the grey-bricked pre- Georgian building, defying precedent and the urging of some of his closest allies.
Johnson is such a convention-busting prime minister that even those close to him appeared unsure of his next moves. Most other leaders would have resigned months ago.
Months of discontent over Johnson’s judgment and ethics within his governing Conservative Party erupted with the resignations of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening.
The final straw for them was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of sexual misconduct allegations within Conservative ranks.
More than 50 members of the government resigned in the hours after Tuesday evening.
“Yesterday, I made clear to the Prime Minister alongside my colleagues in No. 10 that there was only one direction where this was going, and that he should leave with dignity,” Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi wrote in an open letter published on Twitter early Thursday. Johnson had appointed him to the position only two days ago.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this Government at this late hour,” Zahawi continued.
British prime ministers are not directly elected by voters and instead are chosen to lead their party. As such, Johnson needs the support of fellow Conservative Party members to stay in power.
He survived a no-confidence vote by his party last month in which a bruising 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to oust him. That followed the scandal dubbed “partygate” in the U.K., which saw Johnson fined by police and slammed by an investigator’s report over lockdown-breaching parties held by he and his aides during the Covid pandemic.
The police stationed at Downing Street on Thursday appeared unconvinced by the prospect of a high profile resignation. “Nah, no big news today,” one officer said while checking NBC News’ bag at security. “He’ll go on his own terms and no one else’s, I reckon.”
A phalanx of press were eagerly waiting in a cordon across the other side of the street, aiming their cameras and shouting questions at even the most junior, unknown official walking in or out.
This road has been the stage where previous prime ministers Theresa May and David Cameron have resigned have resigny heralded by thewooden now-famous lectern being brought out into the middle of the closed street.
Alex Smith and Mahalia Dobson reported from London, and Rhoda Kwan reported from Taipei.