He said he would stay on as prime minister until a new leader was chosen, with a timetable for the Conservative leadership battle to be announced next week.
Johnson on Thursday gave a brief speech outside 10 Downing Street admitting it was “clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister”.
“I know that there will be many people who are relieved and quite a few will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.”
Johnson said it was “painful” to lose the job and pledged to support the party’s next leader as much as he could but did not offer an apology to his colleagues or a direct acknowledgement of any of their criticisms.
“As we’ve seen in Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful,” he said.
“When the herd moves, it moves.
“And my friends in politics, no one is remotely indispensable, and our brilliant and Darwinian system will produce another leader, equally committed to taking this country forward.”
Johnson also lamented his failure to convince his colleagues to stick by him with the party “only a handful of points behind in the polls”.
“I know that there will be many people who are relieved and quite a few will also be disappointed,” he said.
“And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world.
Johnson must leave ‘the sooner, the better’
Johnson’s decision to stay on as prime minister until a new Tory leader could be elected was immediately criticised by this political opponents.
Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said the country needed a “change of government and a fresh start for Britain”, not just a change of Tory leadership.
“He needs to go completely,” he said.
“None of this nonsense about clinging on for a few months. He’s inflicted lies fraud and chaos in the country.
“And, you know, we’re stuck with a government which isn’t functioning in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
“And all of those that have been propping him up should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Johnson’s was a premiership characterised by “chaos and lack of integrity” before descending in recent days into “utter farce”.
I think first and foremost, there will be an overwhelming and very widespread sense of relief that Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister, which should probably never have been allowed to happen in the first place, is coming to an end,” she said.
“I do think it is quite incredible though to suggest that he will remain as prime minister for another three to four months.
“The sooner he is out of Number 10, and preferably that is today, the better.”
Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi had earlier on Thursday called on Johnson to resign, just 36 hours after Johnson put him in the job.
Zahawi said Johnson knew “the right thing to do” was to “go now”.
Zahawi was appointed late on Tuesday to replace Rishi Sunak, who resigned saying he could no longer support Johnson after a series of ethics scandals.
Education Secretary Michelle Donelan, who was also appointed on Tuesday following the resignation of her predecessor, announced her resignation on Thursday morning.
‘Desperate, deluded’, but dug in his heels
Johnson has previously rejected clamours for his resignation, digging in his heels even as dozens of officials quit and previously loyal allies urged him to go after yet another scandal engulfed his leadership.
In a dramatic move on Wednesday, a group of Johnson’s most trusted ministers visited him at his office in Downing Street, telling him to stand down after losing the trust of his party. Even then, Johnson had instead opted to fight for his political career and fired one of the cabinet officials, Michael Gove.
It is rare for a prime minister to cling on to office in the face of so much pressure from his cabinet colleagues. The Guardian‘s front page on Thursday called him “Desperate, deluded”.
Johnson, 58, is known for his knack for wiggling out of tight spots. He had remained in power despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled parliament and was dishonest to the public about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules.
It was the most recent disclosures — that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Chris Pincher, a Conservative lawmaker, before he promoted the man to a senior position — that pushed the prime minister to the brink.
Last week, Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip after complaints he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations levelled against Pincher — and shifting explanations from the government about what Johnson knew when he tapped him for a senior job enforcing party discipline.
Resigning health secretary Sajid Javid quit at the same time as Sunak earlier this week, throwing fuel on the political crisis.
Javid captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threaten to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he told fellow lawmakers Wednesday.
“I believe that point is now.”
The resignations of some 40 junior ministers and ministerial aides followed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A third cabinet official, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, quit late on Wednesday, saying “we have passed the point” where it’s possible to “turn the ship around” and Lewis left on Thursday morning.