‘Them’s the breaks’: Boris Johnson’s parting words, compared to past six PMs

As he announced outside No. 10 Downing Street that he would be resigning, Boris Johnson summed up his lot succinctly.

“Them’s the breaks,” the British prime minister said Thursday, as he surrendered his grip on power, and acknowledged he will be joining the ranks of Britain’s former leaders. (He has quit as Conservative leader but remains caretaker PM.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned Thursday, acknowledging that it was “clearly the will” of his party that he should go. (July 7 / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

His address came after he had initially entered “unchartered territory,” refusing to leave a day before, despite more than 50 resignations in his government.

Any other leader “would have gone far, far earlier than now,” said Rod Dacombe, director for the Centre for British Politics and Government in the U.K.

Yet the ending for past British prime ministers have also been against the backdrop of scandals, opposition and crises.

Here’s how the past six PMs have left the nation’s top job — and some of their parting words.

Theresa May, 2016-2019, Conservative

The U.K.’s second female prime minister was caught in a battle over Brexit. Despite winning a confidence vote in 2018, she faced opposition within her government.

After her Brexit deal was rejected three times, she offered to vote on whether to hold a second referendum on Brexit to appease those in opposition. But in the process, she lost support in her own party, leading for calls for her to resign, which she did.

“It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” she said in her resignation speech.

David Cameron, 2010-2016, Conservative

One year after winning a majority, Cameron resigned after British residents voted, by a slight majority, to leave the European Union. Cameron had made good on a fatal promise to hold a referendum on the EU if he was re-elected in 2015, while saying Britain was stronger within the EU.. The vote left Britain divided and at risk of leaving the union without a deal.

“I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union and I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone — not the future of any single politician, including myself,” Cameron said. “But the British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and, as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.”

Gordon Brown, 2007-2010, Labour

In his short tenure, Brown faced a worldwide financial crisis and recession in Britain as well as an expense scandal involving him and some of his MPs. The Labour Party lost its majority in the 2010 election, giving the Conservatives a minority, resulting in a hung parliament. There were talks among both the Conservative and Labour parties about forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, before Brown decided to step down.

“Only those who have held the office of prime minister can understand the full weight of its responsibilities and its great capacity for good,” Brown said. “I have been privileged to learn much about the very best in human nature, and a fair amount too about its frailties, including my own.”

Tony Blair, 1997-2007, Labour

Blair stood apart from other Labour leaders by winning three consecutive elections, winning his first election with a big majority for his party. But he lost popularity over his support of the Iraq war.

In fall 2004, Blair said he would run for a third term, but not a fourth. But amid growing opposition to his leadership, his party members called for an earlier resignation. After a number of resignations by some of his ministers, Blair announced in September 2006 that he would step down within 12 months — which he did in June.

“Sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down,” he said.

John Major, 1990-1997, Conservative

Despite leading the U.K. through an extended recession, Major lost popularity as a result of raising taxes and general dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party, which had ruled for many years. Amid opposition, he resigned as party leader so he could run in the leadership election of 1995 — which he won. But subsequently, his party faced a major defeat in the 1997 general election, despite Major winning his own seat. He became leader of the Opposition briefly until a new Conservative leader was elected.

“When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage,” said Major.

Margaret Thatcher, May 1979-1990, Conservative

The “Iron Lady” was the longest consecutive-reigning prime minister in Britain since 1827. She won a majority government and was re-elected twice. But after losing support from her party due to a controversial poll tax and disputes over British integration into Europe, she didn’t meet the threshold to win the first vote on the Conservative leadership in November 1990, so she withdrew her nomination. Shortly after, she resigned.

“It’s been a tremendous privilege to serve this country as prime minister — wonderfully happy years,” she said. “Now it’s time for a new chapter to open.”

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By Jon Doe