Why did Boris Johnson resign as prime minister? Timeline of his biggest scandals as he plots comeback

As former PM appears set to launch a new Tory leadership bid, we look back on the moments that forced him out of Downing Street just months ago

Liam James,Joe Middleton
Sunday 23 October 2022 11:13 BST
'I'm sorry...': Seven times Boris Johnson has apologised

Boris Johnson is flying back from his holiday in the Carribbean after the resignation of prime minister Liz Truss amid rumors he may be about the launch an extraodinary political comeback.

Ms Truss‘s resignation on Thursday after just 44 days in office brought to an end the shortest premiership in British history and one that was marked by economic turmoil and chaotic governance.

Supporters of Mr Johnson are backing the former prime minister to make a new bid for No 10, despite his own premiership being marked by a series of scandals.

Within weeks of taking the top job in July 2019, Mr Johnson put himself on the wrong side of the law by proroguing parliament in order to avoid scrutiny of his Brexit plans.

This set the tone for a messy three years in power where he lurched from scandal to scandal before finally being put out of his misery by Tory MPs after a vote of no confidence in June this year.

If he does choose to stand for the Tory leadership, Mr Johnson is likely to be taking on his former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt.

Below The Independent has listed the biggest scandals Mr Johnson presided over in three years as prime minister:

Unlawful prorogation – September 2019

The Supreme Court ruled Mr Johnson had unlawfully closed parliament when he prorogued it for the five weeks ahead of a 31 October deadline for Britain leaving the EU.

He was thought to have done so to avoid parliament blocking a no-deal Brexit, which could have led to the deadline being missed after Mr Johnson had pitched himself as the leader who would see Brexit through at any cost.

Parliament reopened a day after and Mr Johnson was forced to ask the EU for a deadline extension.

Public funds to Jennifer Arcuri – September 2019

Mr Johnson was investigated by the police watchdog over his relationship with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, who has claimed she had an affair with him while he was London mayor.

He was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over reports Ms Arcuri’s tech firm was able to access £25,000 in public funds and that she was allowed onto three overseas trade missions.

The IOPC found that while there was no basis for any criminal charges, Mr Johnson should have declared an interest concerning Ms Arcuri and that his failure to do so may have breached the London Assembly’s code of conduct.

Arcuri (right) said she and Johnson had an affair
Arcuri (right) said she and Johnson had an affair (PA/Getty)

Ignores report finding Priti Patel bullied staff – November 2020

A formal investigation found evidence Mr Johnson’s home secretary Priti Patel had bullied staff in her department and breached the ministerial code, even if unintentionally.

Mr Johnson used this caveat to claim he did not believe the code had been breached and had full confidence in his minister.

This led his first ethics adviser, Sir Alex Allan, to quit in disgust.

Backs Dominic Cummings over lockdown breaches – May 2020

When his key aide Dominic Cummings travelled hundreds of miles to Barnard Castle at a time when Mr Johnson had ordered everyone in Britain to stay at home, the prime minister went against the howl of public disgust and stuck by his man.

Mr Johnson said he had “regrets” but only about the anger and confusion the public felt over his aide’s 500-mile round trip.

Mr Cummings soon resigned and spent his time outside of politics attacking Mr Johnson, who he likens to a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other” due to his indecisiveness.

Cummings holds press conference in Downing Street rose garden amid scandal
Cummings holds press conference in Downing Street rose garden amid scandal (AFP/Getty)

Downing Street flat refurbishment – April 2021

Mr Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds carried out a plush £112,000 refurbishment of the flat over No 11. This included a £840 roll of Lulu Lytle wallpaper, a £7,000 rug, a £3,675 drinks trolley and two sofas worth more than £15,000.

The former prime minister was accused by Dominic Cummings, his ex-adviser, of trying to arrange for Tory donors to secretly pay for the revamp.

Following an inquiry, his new adviser on ministerial interests, Lord Geidt, accepted that Mr Johnson had not known what was going on and, when he found out, paid for the work out of his own pocket.

Backs MP who lobbied for companies he was paid by – November 2021

In an episode that began a string of scandals lasting until the time of writing, Mr Johnson backed Tory MP Owen Paterson after the House of Commons Standards Committee found him guilty of breaching rules on paid lobbying by MPs by advocating for two companies he was on the payroll of.

The prime minister whipped Conservatives to support an overhaul of the standards system rather than suspend Mr Paterson from the Commons.

Just 24 hours later, Mr Johnson U-turned in the face of public anger but public attention continued to focus on standards, second jobs and sleaze in Westminster, with some embarassing revelations for MPs. Mr Paterson resigned after the prime minister backtracked.

Fined for breaking lockdown laws – April 2022

In December, Mr Johnson approved an independent investigation into allegations that he and other officials held lockdown-breaking parties during periods when members of the public were under strict restrictions.

His hand was forced after a stream of reports in newspapers about the events led to explosive public anger over what became known as Partygate.

The investigation, led by civil servant Sue Gray, was temporarily impeded when Metropolitan Police started their own probe into the events and ordered Ms Gray to redact her findings until officers had finished their enquiries.

On 12 April, after months of speculation and building evidence against the prime minster, Mr Johnson was fined £50 by police for attending a party in Downing Street held for his birthday in May 2020. He was the first British prime minister found to have have broken the law while in office.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, were also fined.

Though the legal matter had been settled, the prime minister still faced questions over whether he had lied to parliament about his knowledge of the parties.

Johnson leaves Downing Street on Monday
Johnson leaves Downing Street on Monday (PA)

Anti-corruption tsar resigns saying PM broke ministerial code – June 2022

Tory MP John Penrose, who had served as the government’s anti-corruption champion since December 2017, resigned on 6 June, accusing the prime minister of breaching the ministerial code by failing to provide adequate leadership over Partygate.

He said Mr Johnson had failed to address the Sue Gray report’s “very serious criticisms” of the leadership at Downing Street.

The prime minister faced a vote of confidence by Tory MPs later that day. He won by around two-thirds to one-third with his authority diminished.

Disappearing Times Story – June 2022

Downing Street confirmed that members of Boris Johnson’s team intervened following the publication of a story about his wife Carrie in The Times.

The story included allegations Mr Johnson tried to install Carrie in a Foreign Office job. It appeared in the first edition of The Times on 18 June but vanished from later copies and a version also disappeared from the Mail Online.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed that No 10 was in contact with The Times before and after the publication of the first edition, but denied that the prime minister himself had contacted deputy editor Tony Gallagher, who was in charge of the paper that night.

It is understood that no legal action has been taken by No 10 in relation to the story. Private Eye later reported the story was pulled due to fears in No 10 that details would be published of the then-foreign secretary and the future Ms Johnson in a “compromising situation”.

Second ethics adviser resigns – June 2022

Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser Lord Geidt resigned over a No 10 plan that he said risked a “deliberate breach the ministerial code”.

The prime minister suggested the row was over a plan for protectionist steel tariffs – he later said he was prepared to break international law to impose the charges.

Lord Geidt’s letter adds: “The idea that a prime minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront.”

The peer said in his resignation letter that he had been only credibly clinging on to his role “by a very small margin” after Partygate.

Grope claim MP sets PM on road to destruction – June 2022

Chris Pincher MP dramatically resigned as deputy chief whip on 30 June following allegations he assaulted two fellow guests the evening before at the Carlton Club, a Tory private members’ club in London.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson was not aware of any “specific allegations” about Mr Pincher when he appointed him to the whips office, but it emerged over the following days that he was told about allegations against him as far back as 2019.

Key ministers among wave of resignations over Pincher scandal – July 2022

Mr Johnson was forced into a humiliating apology over his handling of the row over Mr Pincher after Downing Street claimed he had forgotten about being told of previous allegations of “inappropriate” conduct.

In the Commons, the atmosphere among Tory MPs was mutinous with critics lining up to condemn No 10’s handling of the matter.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid were chief among several MPs to resign from government by the end of the day. Cabinet ministers Brandon Lewis, Simon Hart followed, while Michele Donelan resigned as education secretary after just two days in the job.

The PM also sensationally fired Michael Gove, after the housing minister reportedly told him it was time for him to step down. No 10 sources briefed that Mr Gove was a “snake” who was not with Mr Johnson on “any of the big arguments”.

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