LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived scandals and setbacks that would have sunk many other politicians, in part because he maintained the support of his cabinet. But that changed in dramatic fashion on Tuesday evening.
Two senior ministers — the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the health secretary, Sajid Javid — submitted their resignations after the prime minister apologized for the latest in a series of scandals that have engulfed his government. Their departure opens a huge fissure at a time when Mr. Johnson was already battling a mutiny within his Conservative Party after months of uproar over Downing Street parties that violated coronavirus lockdown rules.
Several analysts said the impact of those resignations was likely to shatter whatever support Mr. Johnson still had in the party. While the mechanics of forcing him out of office are complicated — and Mr. Johnson has yet to show any indication that he is willing to bow out on his own — the dynamics just got much harder for him.
“Javid and Sunak going together punches a far bigger hole in the cabinet than would’ve been the case had it just been one or the other,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “I can’t see a way he gets through this. It really does look like the end of the road this time.”
Senior Conservative lawmakers also said that the departure of Mr. Sunak and Mr. Javid would deal a fatal blow to Mr. Johnson. Both are major figures in the party, with their own potential leadership aspirations, though Mr. Sunak’s star has dimmed in recent months because of questions about his wealthy wife’s tax status.
One reason the cabinet’s support is important for Mr. Johnson is that it has prevented a major figure from emerging as a rival to him. Whether Mr. Sunak or Mr. Javid will try to play the role is an open question — as is the question of whether other ambitious cabinet ministers will follow them out the door.
On Tuesday evening, it appeared that several other high-profile cabinet ministers were staying on, including the foreign secretary, Liz Truss; the defense minister, Ben Wallace; and Michael Gove, an erstwhile rival of Mr. Johnson’s who holds a key portfolio overseeing the economic “leveling up” policy to increase prosperity in the north of England.
Mr. Johnson fended off a no-confidence vote in his party last month in large part because there were no obvious successors to him. But an unraveling cabinet could bring such a figure to the stage.