Boris Johnson has confirmed he will stand down after his tumultuous premiership was finally upended after months of scandal.
Tory MPs who have remained loyal through thin and thinner brutally turned on the prime minister in the last 48 hours, triggering the collapse of an administration which looked unassailable just 12 months ago.
It means the UK is entering another period of political uncertainty at a time of mounting national problems and is on course to have its fourth prime minister in just six years.
The PM confirmed he will make way in a statement outside Downing Street but stopped short of resigning with immediate effect, saying he would stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new Conservative leader is chosen.
He vowed to give the next Tory leader ‘as much support as I can’, adding: ‘I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world – but them’s the breaks.’
Mr Johnson said he was proud to have ‘got Brexit done’ and urged the next prime minister to continue with the levelling up agenda and support for Ukraine.
But he took several coded swipes at his own party, referencing his ‘historic mandate’, legislative programme and even the party’s position in the polls.
Mr Johnson seemed to take aim at his inner circle, praising the close protection officers who provide his security as ‘the one group who never leak’.
On rebellious Tory MPs, he said ‘the herd instinct is powerful’ but conceded ‘no one is indispensable’, acknowledging that some in the country would be ‘relieved’ at his departure.
He thanked his wife Carrie, who watched on holding their infant child, and ‘all the members of our family who have had to put up with so much for so long’, as well as the ‘peerless British civil service’.
Mr Johnson acknowledged his serious illness with Covid-19 in the depth of the pandemic, thanking the ‘fantastic NHS’ who ‘helped to extend my own period in office’.
A timetable for the Tory leadership contest – which he referred to as a ‘Darwinian system’ – is set to be confirmed next week, Mr Johnson said.
He concluded his statement by saying: ‘Even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden.’
There is likely to be ongoing controversy around the choreography of the next few months, with some in the Tory party adamant Mr Johnson can’t remain as a caretaker PM after the tumult of the last week.
Mr Johnson’s admission that he knew about groping allegations surrounding Chris Pincher when he gave him a senior job proved to be fatal for a politician previously renowned for his ability to bounce back from adversity.
Serious questions about his integrity and judgement were raised by the revelation, which emerged at a time his character was already under scrutiny by many in his own party and across the country.
Health secretary Sajid Javid and chancellor Rishi Sunak resigned on Tuesday, news which rocked the foundations of his government and proved to be the beginning of the end.
Their departures triggered a rush for the exit, with several ministers from across the government following suit and quitting, culminating in the chancellor and education secretary he appointed just two days ago deserting him this morning.
In the end, there were around 60 resignations across an incredible two-day period but he has sought to limit the damage during the hours before his statement by appointing new ministers.
After surviving a series of serious blows, the Pincher affair proved to be too much, finally sweeping away a prime minister who instigated his own landslide a little more than two-and-a-half years ago.
The PM seemed politically untouchable when he won a majority of 80 seats in December 2019, building a new political coalition in the process and claiming a decisive mandate to take the UK out of the European Union.
But his short time in office has been beset by controversy and accusations of dishonesty, culminating in the undignified spectacle of a PM admitting he knew there were serious assault allegations against a man he appointed to a role responsible for party discipline.
Downing Street’s spin operatives and a series of ministers pushed an alternative version of events which proved to be false when an ex-senior civil servant broke cover and called the PM’s bluff.
Lord McDonald, who served as top mandarin in the foreign office before entering the House of Lords, took the remarkable step of publicly contradicting the prime minister’s account.
Mr Johnson might have thought the outer limits of the woods were in sight after managing to endure the partygate affair and a fine by the Met for breaking his own law.
He also survived an unprecedented civil service investigation which found he was responsible for presiding over a lawless boozing culture in Number 10.
More than a third of his party tried to oust him after the Tory party plummeted in the polls but even two symbolic by-election losses couldn’t dislodge him.
The Pincher revelations proved to be too much, with the fallout leaving the country rudderless as a cost of living crisis rages and war continues on the continent.
Rebel MPs were pushing for a change to Tory party rules in order to allow a vote of confidence and force him out of office while senior party figures privately told the PM that the game was up.
A Conservative leadership race to find Mr Johnson’s successor will now take place amid calls from the opposition for the eventual winner to call a general election.