ANDREW PIERCE reveals the gripping inside story of tense last hours in the No. 10 bunker

Yesterday, at 12.30pm, Boris marched to the lectern outside No 10, clutching a hastily written resignation speech. His delivery was upbeat, but I’m told that for all his boosterish manner, he was furious.

Behind him, in the Downing Street bunker, his loyalists were white with rage at the plotters who had brought him down.

One senior source did not mince their words to me: ‘The Tory Party has gone totally ‘schizo’. Every so often it gets a mania, and that’s what’s happened. It’s been like a Salem witch trial or when a craze sweeps through a girls’ school. In the end, the boss was left with no alternative but to fold the tent – but he has been swept out on a wave of hysteria.’

Johnson is pictured speaking to Ukrainian president Zelensky yesterday afternoon following his resignation. He reportedly told the Kyiv leader: 'You're a hero, everybody loves you'

Johnson is pictured speaking to Ukrainian president Zelensky yesterday afternoon following his resignation. He reportedly told the Kyiv leader: ‘You’re a hero, everybody loves you’

A pensive Mr Johnson looks over briefing notes for what may be the last time in his No 10 office

A pensive Mr Johnson looks over briefing notes for what may be the last time in his No 10 office

The Cabinet as it appeared at Number 10 Downing Street earlier this week

The Cabinet as it appeared at Number 10 Downing Street earlier this week 

Boris Johnson pictured with his newly appointed cabinet after delivering his statement of resignation as the leader of the Conservative Party

Boris Johnson pictured with his newly appointed cabinet after delivering his statement of resignation as the leader of the Conservative Party 

The final blows that forced Boris to quit 

6.47am: Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis – tweeted that he could not longer continue without ‘honesty, integrity and mutual respect’. 

6.49am: Treasury minister Helen Whately – said ‘there are only so many times you can apologise and move on’. 

7.15am: Security minister Damian Hinds – ‘for our country, and trust in our democracy, we must have a change of leadership’

7.21am: Science minister George Freeman – accused Mr Johnson of ‘insults to the Conservatism I believe in and stand for’.

7.50am: Pensions minister Guy Opperman – ‘it should not take the resignation of 50 colleagues, but sadly the PM has left us no choice’

8.02am: Technology minister Chris Philp – ‘the PM should step down’. 

8.09am: Courts minister James Cartlidge – ‘The position is clearly untenable.’ 

8.43am: Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi – ‘You must do the right thing and go now.’  

8.51am: Education Secretary Michelle Donelan – ‘as someone who values integrity above all else, I have no choice’.

How had it come to this? On Tuesday night, after his Health Secretary Sajid Javid and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak had both quit the government within minutes, the Greased Piglet had vowed to slip from the butcher’s block once again.

And even as Wednesday progressed, and the initial trickle of resignations turned into a deluge (46 by midnight), he was still vowing – publicly and privately – to fight on.

As rumours of a fresh no-confidence vote and leadership challenge swelled on Wednesday afternoon, Boris insisted to ministers begging him to stand down that he was going nowhere. ‘If you are going to die, go down fighting,’ he reportedly told friends.

At about 7pm, a clearly exhausted Boris held his weekly half-hour audience with the Queen by telephone.

Even if Her Majesty did not directly put the question to him, it is a safe bet that her officials will have challenged their Downing Street counterparts as to whether the PM could realistically build a viable Cabinet after such a wounding series of ministerial losses.

But the truth was – at that moment – nobody knew.

Clearly, it was going to be tough to carry on. Key ministers had told him explicitly that the game was up. I understand Boris was particularly struck when Home Secretary Priti Patel, one of his most loyal supporters, had visited him earlier that day to tell him she thought it was all over. Unlike many of her Cabinet colleagues, preening before the cameras, Patel used a side door to Downing Street and avoided the press scrum.

‘Priti told him she would serve him in whatever capacity and for however long he wanted,’ says a source. ‘But she thought he could not go on much longer. It was quite emotional. They will always be best of friends.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had been keeping a spreadsheet charting the PM’s supporters.

‘Grant told him the data showed he was going to lose badly [in a confidence vote],’ said another source. ‘He said it would look undignified if he tried to stay on.’ Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis had also urged Boris – in vain – to stand down.

By 8pm, Boris knew he had hours to form a government, or he was done for. He moved with his dwindling band of allies into Downing Street’s Thatcher Room, in which a large portrait of Mrs T gazes down from above the mantelpiece. 

Mr Johnson strides out the Downing Street door to deliver his painful exit address yesterday

Mr Johnson strides out the Downing Street door to deliver his painful exit address yesterday

Mr Johnson made his address in front of the famous black door - where premiers often deliver key announcements to the UK

Mr Johnson made his address in front of the famous black door – where premiers often deliver key announcements to the UK  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back into No10 after addressing the press and the nation as he announces his resignation as British Prime Minister

Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back into No10 after addressing the press and the nation as he announces his resignation as British Prime Minister

 

By 8pm, Boris knew he had hours to form a government, or he was done for. He moved with his dwindling band of allies into Downing Street’s Thatcher Room, in which a large portrait of Mrs T gazes down from above the mantelpiece.

Officials ordered a takeaway: Vegetarian curry with lentils, naan bread, samosas and poppadoms. (Meat, it had been reasoned, would be more difficult to digest – and the day’s events had been hard enough to swallow.) Unlike when Keir Starmer fancies an Indian, there was no alcohol.

 In the room were Boris, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Guto Harri, the communications secretary the PM has known since their Oxford days. Also present were deputy chief of staff Ben Gascoigne – a veteran of Boris’s time as London mayor – and interim chief of staff Samantha Cohen, a former press secretary to the Queen.

If the Palace had indeed demanded to know whether the PM could form a government, she will have had to give them an answer.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, Cabinet Office minister Nigel Adams and Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns were also present: Boris loyalists, all.

Fittingly, a book called ‘Conundrum’ lay on the oak table – which has a storied history. It was commissioned in 2013 by then-prime minister David Cameron for the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

As Case helped himself to food, Boris piped up: ‘Heck! You know who was sitting around this table with Cameron, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and the rest of them? It was Vladimir Putin! He was sitting right here.’ There was muffled laughter. The joke eased the tension: Everyone present knew that despite his vow to fight on, these could be the last hours of his premiership.

So: How to form a government when you’ve lost dozens of ministers in a matter of hours?

Vacant posts had to be filled, and a shortlist of possible Tory MPs compiled. The position of Welsh secretary was newly vacant after Simon Hart had delivered a terse resignation letter that evening.

Around 20 MPs were also outside No 10, clapping and cheering as he finished his speech that said admitted 'no-one is indispensable' - less than three years after he won a landslide general election victory

Around 20 MPs were also outside No 10, clapping and cheering as he finished his speech that said admitted ‘no-one is indispensable’ – less than three years after he won a landslide general election victory 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson was greeted by staff as well as his son Wilfred as he arrived back into No 10

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson was greeted by staff as well as his son Wilfred as he arrived back into No 10

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by staff as he arrives back into No10 after delivering his statement in Downing street after resigning as the leader of the Conservative Party

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by staff as he arrives back into No10 after delivering his statement in Downing street after resigning as the leader of the Conservative Party

Mr Johnson thanked the public for letting him serve them as PM

Mr Johnson thanked the public for letting him serve them as PM

A replacement was found in no time in the form of Welsh-born former justice secretary Robert Buckland. As he marshalled his troops, Boris was seen punching the air, raising his hands above his head, walking around the room saying to himself: ‘We can do this!’ At one point, he declared to an ally: ‘It’s not over. Is it over? Let’s get it done.’

Shortly before 9pm, Boris broke off the talks to make a crucial telephone call. Earlier that day, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove visited the PM, warning him in a testy exchange that his position was ‘no longer sustainable’. Gove said to Boris: ‘The party will move to get rid of you.’

Boris’s resignation speech at a glance 

PM vows to stay on until new Tory leader chosen  

‘I have today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place.’

He fought to stay in power out of ‘duty’ to 2019 voters

The PM hailed his ‘incredible mandate’ from the 2019 general election.

He added: ‘The reason I have fought so hard in the last few days to continue to deliver that mandate in person was not just because I wanted to do so, but because I felt it was my job, my duty, my obligation to you to continue to do what we promised to do in 2019.’

PM hits out at those who removed him in ‘eccentric’ rebellion

‘In the last few days I have tried to persuade my colleagues it would be eccentric to change governments when we are delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate and when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls.

‘Even in mid-term after quite a few months of pretty relentless sledging.’

Boris admits ‘pain’ at leaving and attacks ‘herd instinct’ of MPs

‘Of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.

‘But, as we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.

‘In politics, no one is remotely indispensable.’

Pledges support to next Tory leader but urges them to cut taxes  

‘Our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader equally committed to taking this country forward through tough times.

‘Not just helping families to get through it but changing and improving the way we do things – cutting burdens on businesses and families and, yes, cutting taxes.

‘To that new leader, whoever he or she may be, I say I will give you as much support as I can.’

His ‘sadness’ at giving up ‘best job in the world’

‘I know there will be many people who will be relieved and, perhaps, quite a few who will also be disappointed.

‘I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world, but thems the breaks.’

Message of support to Ukrainians

He said: ‘Let me say now to the people of Ukraine that I know we in the UK will continue to back your fight for freedom for as long as it takes.’

Promise of a ‘golden future’ for Britons

‘Even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden.’

He gave the PM a deadline of 9pm that evening to announce his resignation – or Gove would quit the Government and take other senior ministers with him.

At 8.58pm, Boris lifted the phone to Gove. He accused the veteran minister of ‘treachery’ – and sacked him before he could quit.

‘It was over in four minutes,’ said a source.

The undignified dismissal means that Gove has now been sacked by three prime ministers – having been kicked out of the Cabinet by David Cameron and Theresa May.

When Boris told the room that he had dismissed Gove, there were broad smiles and someone even shouted: ‘Not before time!’ One person who was there said: ‘The boss had a glint in his eye and said we need a new name on the board next to ‘Levelling Up Secretary’.’

To the surprise of many, Greg Clark, a longstanding critic of Boris over Brexit, was found to fill Gove’s shoes.

As the evening wore on, the government jigsaw was being steadily completed. ‘A new Cabinet was taking shape,’ says a source. ‘His staff told him that emails were pouring in from across the country, urging him to stay and fight. I suspect they never told him about the emails that said: ‘For heaven’s sake, man, go!’

When the meeting finished at 11pm, Boris went upstairs to the Downing Street flat, telling people he was in a position to fight on.

He had spent hours under the iron gaze of Mrs Thatcher – a symbol he will have immediately understood. Notoriously, Thatcher was ousted by her own Cabinet in 1990. But it was her husband, Denis, who urged her to quit, saying: ‘You’ve done enough, old girl. You’ve done your share. For God’s sake, don’t go on any longer.’ Boris’s wife Carrie, who was in the flat with their two children, is believed to have discussed his options with him in detail.

‘Of course she did,’ says a supporter. ‘She’s not just his wife: She’s his best friend.’ Also late on Wednesday night, Boris took soundings over the phone from his father Stanley and old friends. Texts suggest he woke at 5.30am.

But despite the bullishness of the night before, it was clear that serious doubts had crept in. The newspaper front pages were dire; the broadcasters worse. Several former supporters had texted overnight to withdraw their support.

Somehow, in the hours that had passed, Boris had decided to resign. He informed at least two aides of his decision.

‘He was pumped up the night before: Raging about the ministerial resignations, about the people who let him down,’ says a well-placed source. ‘But sometimes, when you wake up, you see things differently.’ By 6.30am, I have learnt, Boris was at his desk writing his resignation statement.

‘He will have spoken to Carrie before he started to write it. I imagine that was hugely significant,’ says an ally.

At 7.30am, Boris called another meeting in the Thatcher Room, attended by Cohen, Case, Harri, Gascoigne and deputy chief of staff David Canzini.

They listened in silence as he said: ‘It’s the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader. So I have decided to resign today.’

Just over an hour later, Boris telephoned Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, to say he was resigning. He also telephoned the Queen to give her the news.

The resignations continued. In one particularly hideous embarrassment, Michelle Donelan, who had been appointed Education Secretary only two nights before, delivered hers by telephone.

The shortest-lived education secretary in history, she was not in her department long enough to sit for the obligatory photographic portrait that would have hung alongside such titans of the role as Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams.

‘She looks completely foolish and in hindsight she was a daft appointment in the first place,’ says a source. Controversially, Donelan is entitled to three-months’ severance pay for this brief and undignified stint in high office.

Boris Johnson embraced his family and kissed wife Carrie after the under-pressure PM announced his intention to resign

Boris Johnson embraced his family and kissed wife Carrie after the under-pressure PM announced his intention to resign

Standing in front of the traditional podium and watched by close aides, Carrie and baby Romy (pictured), Mr Johnson pointed to his achievements since winning a huge landslide in 2019. Some staff are said to have cried before and after the speech. Mr Johnson also addressed them inside No 10

Standing in front of the traditional podium and watched by close aides, Carrie and baby Romy (pictured), Mr Johnson pointed to his achievements since winning a huge landslide in 2019. Some staff are said to have cried before and after the speech. Mr Johnson also addressed them inside No 10

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his resignation statement outside Number 10 Downing Street

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his resignation statement outside Number 10 Downing Street

Also attracting fury from Boris’s camp is former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, who phoned Downing Street early this morning to say he was going to resign – but then changed his mind and decided to stay when he realised Boris was leaving instead. Boris, I’m told, wouldn’t let him – and told him he was already gone.

In the coarse words of one Boris supporter: ‘In a crowded field, Brandon is the d*** of the week.’

Even as he faced his imminent execution, and despite his wounded pride and anger, Boris worked to raise the spirits of his allies. By 10.30am, not only had he once again assembled a full Cabinet, but the officials from Whitehall’s propriety and ethics department had even rubber-stamped all the appointments. (They eventually met at 3pm – and looked rather happier than the traitor-stuff Cabinet that had assembled earlier in the week.)

Finally, it was 12.30pm, and Boris was due to give his resignation speech outside Downing Street.

‘Right,’ he barked to his team. ‘We have got a fully functioning and talented Cabinet which I think will be better than the last one. Get Sir Graham Brady on the phone and tell him I’ve changed my mind. I’m not resigning: I’ve appointed a new Cabinet!’

Jaws dropped. Could the boss possibly be serious?

Without looking back, Boris snatched up his speech and marched to the Downing Street door. It slammed shut behind him.

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