Boris Johnson has launched a defiant valedictory defense of his record as UK prime minister, claiming he “got the big calls right” and had led “one of the most dynamic governments of modern times”.
Speaking in what could be his last debate as premier, Johnson said he had delivered Brexit, rolled out a successful Covid-19 vaccine programme, tackled climate change and “successfully managed the economy”.
Johnson had eventually yielded to pressure from the opposition Labor party to grant parliamentary time for a no-confidence vote in his government on Monday, and Conservative MPs rallied behind the prime minister as he prepared to bow out. The result of the vote will be announced later in the evening.
When Johnson sat down there were cries of “more” from loyal MPs, but there were many empty seats on the Tory benches. Earlier this month a rebellion by ministers and MPs forced him to quit as leader of his party.
The prime minister’s performance made use of the flights of rhetoric that Conservative MPs may come to miss: none of Johnson’s would-be successors match his flair for language.
Michael Fabricant, a Johnson loyalist, said: “Our party is making the same mistake as the Labor party made when it knifed Tony Blair.” Johnson will make his final appearance at the prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
But Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said Johnson should leave Downing Street immediately, rather than carrying on as interim leader until September 5.
He said that unlike David Cameron or Theresa May, who carried on in Downing Street while a Tory leadership contest took place, Johnson had been “forced out of office in disgrace”.
Starmer said the Conservatives resembled a struggling Premier League football club, “changing managers as they slide towards relegation”. And he claimed that Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor and bookmakers’ favorite to succeed Johnson, had “broken” the economy and helped prop up the prime minister in office.
Starmer was heckled by Johnson’s supporters, led by culture secretary Nadine Dorries, who repeatedly shouted “boring” at the Labor leader.
For his part, Johnson claimed Starmer would join forces with “the deep state” to try to engineer Britain’s eventual return to the EU and that he had “zero confidence” in the opposition party.
And he said that whoever succeeded him as prime minister would defeat Labor at the next election.
Although Johnson’s response to the no-confidence motion was typically defiant, Labor MP Kevin Brennan said: “Only an unconventional man would want to have the opportunity to speak at their own funeral.”