Rishi Sunak has quit as chancellor and Sajid Javid has resigned as health secretary as Boris Johnson’s leadership faced a fresh crisis.
Mr Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously”, adding “I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
In an incendiary letter, Mr Javid said the British people “expect integrity from their government” but voters now believed Mr Johnson’s administration was neither competent nor “acting in the national interest”.
The resignations came as Mr Johnson was forced into a humiliating apology over his handling of the Chris Pincher row after it emerged he had forgotten about being told of previous allegations of “inappropriate” conduct.
Mr Pincher quit as deputy chief whip last week following claims that he groped two men at a private members’ club, but Mr Johnson was told about allegations against him as far back as 2019.
The Prime Minister acknowledged he should have sacked Mr Pincher when he was told about the 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. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this Government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power.”
The Prime Minister’s authority had already been damaged by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his MPs vote against him.
The loss of crunch by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield in June triggered the resignation of party chairman Oliver Dowden.
But the resignations of Mr Javid – a former leadership contender – and Mr Sunak, viewed as a potential successor to the Prime Minister, mean Mr Johnson’s position is now perilous.
Mr Sunak, who had been due to make a joint economic speech with Mr Johnson next week, said “it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different”.
“I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth,” he said.
“Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it’s not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one.”
The Cabinet revolt came as Mr Johnson battled to contain the row over his handling of the fallout from Mr Pincher’s Carlton Club incident.
MPs were told that Mr Johnson had initially not recalled being told about the earlier 2019 allegations.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, the then foreign secretary, gave Mr Pincher a dressing down over his “inappropriate” conduct “in no uncertain terms” at the time and the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team was also involved.
No 10 had initially claimed Mr Johnson had not been aware of any “specific allegations”, after Mr Pincher’s dramatic resignation.
By Monday that line had evolved to acknowledge the Prime Minister was aware of “allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis told MPs “last week, when fresh allegations arose, the Prime Minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident”.
“As soon as he was reminded, the No 10 press office corrected their public lines.”
Mr Johnson denied lying to his aides about the situation.
The admission that Mr Johnson forgot about the earlier complaint came after the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald, said the original No 10 account was “not true” and the Prime Minister had been briefed “in person”.
As well as the Foreign Office complaint, Mr Johnson was also informed about another allegation against Mr Pincher at the time of the reshuffle when he was made deputy chief whip in February 2022, although this claim was “not taken forward”, according to No 10.
A third incident, the one which triggered Mr Pincher’s resignation, is now being examined by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).
In the Commons, the atmosphere among Tory MPs was mutinous with critics lining up to condemn the handling of the situation by Mr Johnson’s No 10 operation.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Liaison Committee which will question Mr Johnson on Wednesday, demanded to know why those with “the wrong attitudes and the wrong behaviours” are promoted by their leaders.
Tory MP Peter Bone’s supportive intervention in the Commons chamber stood out so much that even Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle remarked that he was a “lone batter” for the Government.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said the latest disclosures revealed an “ethical vacuum” at the heart of Downing Street.
“The Prime Minister was personally informed about these allegations and yet he was either negligent or complicit,” she said.