U.K. Officials Dismiss Claim in Times That Johnson to Step Down
(Bloomberg) -- Is Boris Johnson planning to retire as U.K. prime minister in six months? That’s the eye-catching claim in the Times of London, which cited a conversation one of its readers had with the father-in-law of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser.
According to the newspaper’s Diary column, Humphry Wakefield chatted to Times reader Anna Silverman when she visited his castle in northeast England last week. Johnson, Wakefield is reported to have said, is still suffering the after-effects of his coronavirus infection and will never fully recover, and therefore plans to resign early next year.
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Johnson’s press office declined to comment and Wakefield couldn’t be reached, but the prime minister’s officials privately described the story as nonsense.
Still, the Times column has not gone unnoticed, despite the newspaper placing it in a section known more for trivia than political scoops. The fact that it has gained traction on social media points to the fact that the pandemic has taken some shine off Johnson’s leadership even though he won a landslide general election in December.
Questions about Johnson’s health have lingered since he emerged from intensive care in April following treatment for Covid-19. Missteps in the government’s coronavirus response have led some members of his Conservative Party to speculate he would step down before the next general election, due in 2024 -- an idea previously dismissed by Johnson’s office.
There’s even speculation that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak -- perceived as having performed best during the pandemic among Johnson’s top team -- is already being lined up for 10 Downing Street.
Typically, a political party would wait before replacing a leader until close to the next election to allow the successor the chance to ride any bounce in the polls. But any such talk -- credible or not -- of stepping down early is corrosive to a prime minister and is unlikely to be welcomed by Johnson.
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