Brandon Lewis has resigned as Northern Ireland secretary following Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand down, despite calls from some of his own cabinet ministers.
The number of departures from the government payroll passed 50 this morning as swathes of ministers called for the prime minister to quit.
But a senior Number 10 source told Sky News Mr Johnson is remaining “absolutely defiant” and “does not intend to resign”, adding that the prime minister wants to “fight on”.
Tweeting this morning, Mr Lewis wrote: “A decent and responsible government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect. It is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld.
“I have submitted my letter of resignation to the prime minister.”
Mr Lewis, who has been Northern Ireland secretary since 2020, was among the cabinet ministers who told Mr Johnson on Wednesday he should listen to the overwhelming view of the Conservative Party and resign, Sky News understands.
But their pleas were ignored and later that evening, the PM fired his former Brexit ally Michael Gove. A Number 10 source said Mr Johnson was intending to continue with his reshuffle today.
Treasury minister Helen Whately joined the avalanche of ministers resigning this morning, telling the prime minister: “There are only so many times you can apologise and move on. That point has been reached.”
She was followed by security minister Damian Hinds, science minister George Freeman, pensions minister Guy Opperman and technology minister Chris Philp.
Mr Freeman tweeted: “Enough is enough. This can’t go on.”
The mass rebellion began on Tuesday after Downing Street admitted the PM knew about allegations of inappropriate behaviour against disgraced former Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher in 2019, but still appointed him in February.
Before the admission, government ministers had been sent out to defend Mr Johnson on the airwaves, and told to say their boss was unware of “specific” allegations.
Minutes after Mr Johnson apologised, saying appointing Mr Pincher was a “mistake”, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announce his departure, followed swiftly by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Mr Pincher resigned his role last week after fresh allegations emerged that he groped two men at a private members club in London. He later lost the Tory whip, meaning he now sits as an independent MP in the Commons.
Sir Robert Buckland, who served as Mr Johnson’s justice secretary until September last year, told Sky News: “If the writing wasn’t on the wall last night, it is very clearly written on the wall this morning.”
He said the PM had “no choice but to leave office”, appealing to him to “think of the good, not just of the party but of the country”.
Former Brexit minister Lord Frost also said Mr Johnson could not continue in his post, tweeting: “If the PM insists on fighting this out then he will cause serious damage to the party and government, and destroy his place in history.”
He also took aim at those staying in cabinet and urged them to resign, adding: “Those who continue to support the PM in his actions will suffer serious damage to their reputations in future.”