Science and education ministers quit in devastating morning for prime minister
Boris Johnson has said he will step down as prime minister following a flurry of ministerial resignations, including the science minister and education secretary, triggering fears for the future of government promises on R&D in the UK.
His announcement came on a day of pandemonium that included:
- Fears voiced that the UK political crisis could further stall Horizon plans.
- Michelle Donelan, who was promoted from universities minister to education secretary just two days ago, quitting the government.
- James Cleverly becoming the third education secretary in two days, after Michelle Donelan resigned.
The prime minister was still clinging to power early on the morning of 7 July, but another wave of resignations appears to have forced him to admit defeat. Science minister George Freeman announced he was standing down, followed swiftly by Michelle Donelan, the former universities minister who was promoted to education secretary just days earlier.
Johnson told a crowd outside Downing Street that he is standing down as Conservative leader but plans to continue as prime minister until autumn. A leadership election is set to take place over the summer.
Concern over research ramifications
News of the prime minister’s impending departure has sparked further concerns that government plans for a research funding scheme to replace membership of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme could be further delayed, with the plan still awaiting the Treasury’s sign-off.
Other plans that could potentially be derailed by the political crisis include the government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords.
In the days before his resignation science minister George Freeman said the Treasury’s lack of “commitment” to the shape and funding of the plan risked “deepening [the] brain drain and crisis of confidence and credibility” in the UK as a “science superpower”.
Johnson’s decision came at the end of a bruising 36 hours that saw chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid resign. More departures followed in quick succession, including three ministers in the Department for Education.
Those resignations came as No 10 was mired in a deepening scandal over the behaviour of Conservative party deputy whip Chris Pincher, who resigned following allegations that he groped two men while drunk. It has emerged Johnson knew of a previous complaint about Pincher’s behaviour.