Press play to listen to this article
Voiced by artificial intelligence.
LONDON — A defeated Boris Johnson planned to quit Downing Street last year with jokes about the Dignitas suicide clinic and the children’s nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as part of a broadside aimed at Tory MPs.
The first draft of the resignation speech Johnson delivered as he quit as U.K. prime minister in July 2022 was toned down after discussions with friends and advisers, removing some of the closer-to-the-bone remarks.
Revealed for the first time in the new book The Right to Rule by journalist Ben Riley-Smith — and shared with POLITICO ahead of the book’s publication next week — the draft makes clear the depth of the betrayal Johnson felt at his ministers, who forced him from office by resigning en masse in protest at his handling of a sex scandal.
Johnson’s first attempt included the line: “In the last 48 hours I have been struck by how many colleagues have asked me to resign with dignity, as though they represented some kind of euthanasia clinic.” Riley-Smith confirms this was a reference to the controversial Swiss Dignitas assisted dying facility.
The draft went on: “I cannot ask good friends and colleagues to superglue Humpty together again, when they are frankly hesitant or not supportive.”
It was sent to Johnson’s friends and advisers at 7.23 a.m. on July 7, 2022, less than two hours before his resignation was formally announced.
It also alluded to what he saw as his trial by the social media platform Twitter (now rebranded X,) saying: “There is still a part of me that thinks that if only we could have turned off Twitter and sent the MPs off to the beach we could’ve sorted this out and gone on to thrash Labour in the next election.”
All three lines were removed from the speech before he delivered it shortly before noon that day.
In their place was a striking new phrase which, Riley-Smith reveals, was coined by Nadhim Zahawi, whom Johnson had appointed as his chancellor two days earlier. “As we’ve seen in Westminster, the herd is powerful. And when the herd moves, it moves.”
Johnson was forced from office after three years as prime minister in the wake of a series of scandals, including multiple breaches of lockdown rules in No. 10 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The final straw for his ministers was his misleading response to accusations that he appointed an ally, Christopher Pincher, to a role as a government whip responsible for MPs’ pastoral care and discipline, knowing there had been complaints about his conduct.