Prime minister Boris Johnson paid a high-profile tribute to civil servants in his resignation speech following a remarkable 48 hours in which his support among MPs has all but evaporated.
After a tidal wave of resignations – including some from cabinet members only in post for a matter of hours – Johnson gave a speech outside No.10 confirming that he will stand down as PM but stay on in a “caretaker” capacity while a new Conservative Party leader is found.
In a near seven-minute speech that was upbeat in comparison to predecessor Theresa May’s 2019 resignation address, but downbeat by his own standards, Johnson expressed his sadness at having to leave Downing Street without being able to see “so many ideas and projects” to their conclusion.
Immediately after thanking wife Carrie and the couple’s two young children for their support – and his wider family – Johnson turned his attention to the help and support he has received from departmental staff.
“I want to thank the peerless British civil service for all the help that you have given,” he said. He then thanked the police, the emergency services and the NHS – which he said had “helped to extend” his own period in office at a critical stage, in a direct reference to his 2020 hospitalisation with Covid.
Reflecting on the events since the resignations of health secretary Sajid Javid and chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday, Johnson strongly suggested he believed the party’s push to defenestrate him was a mistake. However, he accepted he had now lost the argument.
“In the past few days I’ve tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate and when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls,” he said.
“I regret to have not been successful in those arguments and of course it is painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.
“As we have seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves it moves.
“My friends, in politics no-one is remotely indispensable. Our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times.
“Not just helping families to get through it, but changing and improving the way we do things. Cutting and improving burdens on businesses and families and, yes, cutting taxes because that is the way to generate the growth and income we need to pay for great public services.”
He added: “I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world, but them’s the breaks.”
Johnson said he expected 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady to set out details of a timetable for the process for selecting a new Conservative Party leader early next week.