Boris Johnson has announced that he will step down after a slew of resignations from his top team in protest at his leadership but will stay on as prime minister until a replacement is found.

Johnson's resignation will trigger an internal election to pick a new leader of the Conservative party, with a time table for the race expected next week.
Johnson's resignation will trigger an internal election to pick a new leader of the Conservative party, with a time table for the race expected next week. (AFP)

Boris Johnson has resigned as leader of Britain's Conservative party, paving the way for the selection of a new prime minister after dozens of ministers quit his scandal-hit government.

"It is clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new prime minister," Johnson said outside 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

Johnson, 58, announced that he would step down after a slew of resignations from his top team in protest at his leadership but would stay on as prime minister until a replacement is found.

The timetable for a Tory leadership race will be announced next week, he said, after three tumultuous years in office defined by Brexit, the Covid pandemic and non-stop controversy over his reputation for mendacity.

The leadership election will take place over the summer and the victor will replace Johnson by the party's annual conference in early October, the BBC and others reported.

He said he was "sad...to be giving up the best job in the world" and justified fighting on in the final hours to deliver the mandate he won in a general election in December 2019.

READ MORE: UK's Johnson sacks ally and entrenches despite calls to resign

Changing political landscape

In the frenzied hours building up to Johnson's announcement, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer had welcomed his impending departure.

But Starmer said "a proper change of government" was needed and demanded a no-confidence vote in parliament, potentially triggering a general election, rather than Johnson "clinging on for months and months".

Even while eyeing the exit, Johnson sought to steady the ship on Thursday with several appointments to replace the departed cabinet members.

Johnson had been clinging on to power despite a wave of more than 50 government resignations, expressing defiance even late Wednesday.

But Thursday's departure of education minister Michelle Donelan and a plea to quit from finance minister Nadhim Zahawi, only in their jobs for two days, appeared to tip the balance along with warnings of a new no-confidence vote by Tory MPs.

Defence minister Ben Wallace and Rishi Sunak, whose departure as finance minister on Tuesday sparked the exodus, were among the early frontrunners to succeed Johnson, according to a YouGov survey of Conservative party members.

The shock resignations of Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid late Tuesday set off a chain of others. They quit after Johnson apologised for his February appointment of senior Conservative MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip.

Pincher was forced to step down after accusations of sexual misconduct in a drunken state. Days of shifting explanations followed the resignation, before Downing Street finally conceded that Johnson had known about Pincher's behaviour as far back as 2019.

Tory critics said the Pincher affair had tipped many over the edge, angry at having to defend what they saw as more lies by Johnson.

A culture of scandal has dogged Johnson for months, including lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street. He only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote among Conservative MPs a month ago.

READ MORE: Senior UK cabinet ministers resign, plunging govt into chaos

Source: TRTWorld and agencies