And this time it’s a lot worse than any other time.
Health Minister Sajid Javid said he could not “in good conscience” continue. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak also resigned, saying people “rightly expect the government to be run properly, competently and reputably.”
The immediate cause of the crisis was the fallout from deputy chief whip Chris Pincher’s resignation last Thursday amid allegations that he groped two guests at a private dinner the night before. Though he didn’t directly admit to the allegations, Pincher said in a letter to Johnson that “I drank way too much last night” and “embarrassed myself and other people.”
In an effort to put an end to the swirling controversy, Johnson issued a statement apologizing and saying he wrongly reappointed Pincher to the office of the whip earlier this year – which ironically is responsible for party discipline . But that was overtaken within minutes by the resignation of the two cabinet members.
The details of how Downing Street got into such a mess carry the laying out. When new reports of Pincher’s historic behavior emerged in light of his resignation, Downing Street initially denied the Prime Minister had any knowledge of the allegations.
When it became clear that would not apply, Johnson’s team said they were aware of the historic allegations but that they had been “resolved”. When it emerged that one of the previously unreported allegations against Pincher had been confirmed, Johnson’s spokesman explained that “resolved” could mean it had been confirmed.
Regardless of whatever justification Downing Street has attempted to provide, Johnson’s judgment – and his handling of this latest crisis – is now in serious question.
“The greatest threat to this government is its own amazing incompetence,” said a senior government official. “Discipline has completely collapsed.”
“The PM’s team seems to have no idea how bad things are going,” they added. “No one is good at giving interviews. We cannot stick to a single line. We completely lost control.”
A government minister told CNN they believe a key problem is Johnson setting the tone for the behavior.
“It’s hard for someone with a personal life as colorful as his to blame people for inappropriate behavior,” they said.
The growing sense of chaos – and the perception that the government has lost control of yet another story – does nothing for Conservatives, who believe Johnson has become the party’s biggest electoral defector.
But Conservative MPs are beginning to lose hope that even if Johnson is removed from power, it will not be possible to undo the damage he has done to the party before the next scheduled election in 2024.
Of even greater concern for those who have lost faith in the Prime Minister, he appears determined to fight on.
This worries Conservative MPs, particularly those in marginal seats, who have all but given up hope of keeping them. Few of them believe Johnson really has a handle on how bad things have gotten – and they see no way to reason with the Prime Minister.
The government’s poor handling of Pincher’s resignation means the scandal is now personally linked to Johnson. He was the one who appointed Pincher to a top government post – knowing how serious the allegations against him were and knowing that a complaint against him had been upheld.
For years, Johnson’s main selling point has been his ability to personally connect with voters. His brand of optimistic populism was – Conservative MPs thought – the force of nature that had spurred a majority of the British public to vote for Brexit in 2016 and gave the Tories an 80-parent majority in 2019.
But as Johnson’s government lurches from crisis to crisis, his MPs now fear they will have to learn the hard way what happens when a populist loses popularity.