Boris Johnson’s government is “collapsing” and the prime minister is “unfit” to government, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said as he backed the idea of a snap general election.
The Labour leader also said he would support a vote if one were called in the days ahead, after Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid threw No 10 into turmoil by quitting as chancellor and health secretary.
Mr Johnson faces the biggest leadership crisis yet of his premiership as his handling of the row over scandal-hit ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher became the latest issue to raise questions over his judgement.
“He is unfit to be prime minister, he is not fit to govern the country,” Sir Keir told broadcasters. “We need a change of government.”
Asked if he would support an election if one were called in the next few weeks, Starmer said: “Yes. We need a fresh start for Britain. We need a change of government.”
Sir Keir described Mr Sunak and Mr Javid as the prime minister’s “cheerleaders throughout this sorry saga”, pointing out that they “backed him for months and months and months”.
The Labour leader said: “Backing him when he broke the law, backing him when he lied repeatedly, backing him when he mocked the sacrifices of the British people.”
Starmer added: “Resigning today means nothing against their complicity for all those months when they should have seen him for what he was, they knew who he was.”
The Labour leader also suggested a change of government would help to address the “big issues” like the cost-of-living crisis and could provide “political stability”.
Mr Johnson admitted he should have sacked Mr Pincher when he was told about misconduct claims against him when he was a Foreign Office minister in 2019, but instead Mr Johnson went on to appoint him to other government roles.
Asked if that was an error, Mr Johnson said: “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do. I apologise to everybody who has been badly affected by it.”
But Mr Sunak and Mr Javid resigned soon after his comments to broadcasters. Bim Afolami the quit as Tory vice chair live on air – telling TalkTV the PM no longer had his support or the support of the country and should now “step down”.
Dominic Raab, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Ben Wallace were among the senior cabinet ministers standing by Mr Johnson on Tuesday night as the government implodes.
But red wall Tory MP Jonathan Gullis, a Johnson loyalist, then resigned as PPS to the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, saying the government had become distracted “dealing with our reputational damage”
Tory MP Saqib Bhatti stepped down as PPS to outgoing health secretary Sajid Javid, saying “integrity and trust” had been undermined, while Andrew Murrison resigned as one of the PM’s trade envoys.
Tory rebels urged Mr Johnson to quit – before vowing to oust him soon through a fresh confidence vote if he clings on.
One backbencher opposed to the PM told The Independent: “I had been hoping some cabinet ministers would show some backbone. If he clings on, we will have to get rid of him.”
Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale: “There comes a time when the game is up. I would like to think that even at this stage Boris Johnson is an honourable man, has to go and resign. If he doesn’t we’ll do it for him.”