UK PM back in crisis mode after foreign tour

UK PM back in crisis mode after foreign tour

After attending a NATO summit in Madrid, Boris Johnson is back in Britain, and back in trouble
After attending a NATO summit in Madrid, Boris Johnson is back in Britain, and back in trouble

LONDON - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned Friday from an overseas tour to face multiple crises, including the latest resignation of a senior Conservative from his scandal-hit government.

The embattled leader found his ruling Tories mired in another controversy about sexual impropriety shortly after he landed back in Britain Thursday from a NATO summit in Spain.

In a letter to Johnson, Conservative MP Chris Pincher announced he was quitting as deputy chief whip after admitting he drank "far too much" and "embarrassed myself and other people" late Wednesday.

Reports said he had been accused of groping two men in front of others at the exclusive Carlton Club in London, prompting complaints to the Conservatives.

His departure from its whips' office -- charged with enforcing party discipline and standards -- marks the latest allegation of sexual misconduct by Tories in recent months.

Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned in April after watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons, prompting a by-election in his previously safe seat which the party went on to lose in a historic victory for the opposition Liberal Democrats.

Johnson himself has been embroiled in various scandals, including the so-called "Partygate" affair that led his own lawmakers to trigger a no-confidence vote in him in early June that he narrowly survived.

The 58-year-old still faces a parliamentary probe into whether he lied to MPs over the lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

- 'Survival mode' -

The controversies come with Britain battling a worsening cost-of-living crisis and a summer of strikes by various unions over wages and working conditions.

Meanwhile, the country continues to struggle to adapt to Brexit and is risking a possible trade war with the European Union by unilaterally overhauling the special deal it agreed with the bloc for Northern Ireland.

The Financial Times reported Friday that Britain's trade performance this year has fallen to its worst level since records began, adding to the pound's recent slide.

A growing chorus of critics argue Johnson's government is too distracted by its own woes to focus on these mounting challenges.

"We've got a problem on trade, (a) problem on Northern Ireland, a problem with labour shortages, the pound's significantly devalued, business investment is down," former Labour prime minister Tony Blair told the BBC late Thursday.

"I think it is incoherent and it's also not thought-through and the reason for that is the government's in survival mode -- they're not thinking about what's the right long-term plan for Britain's future."

Johnson returned home after nine days of globetrotting that saw him attend three international summits, including a Commonwealth gathering in Rwanda and G7 meeting in Germany.

- 'Serious questions' -

With global issues such as the war in Ukraine dominating, the beleaguered leader had hoped to use the tour as a moment to reset his troubled tenure.

But Pincher's resignation within hours of Johnson's return immediately refocused attention on claims of Tory sleaze and wrongdoing.

It leaves Johnson with another post to fill in his senior ranks after the Conservatives' chairman quit in response to two bruising by-election defeats, including the one in Parish's seat.

A Downing Street source told British media that Pincher would face no further action from the party and would remain a Tory MP.

But that prompted an immediate backlash, with Johnson facing calls to suspend him from the parliamentary party and launch a further internal investigation.

Pincher only took up his latest role of deputy chief whip in February, and Johnson reportedly defied warnings from other Tories about his behaviour.

Pincher previously resigned as a junior whip in 2017, following a complaint that he had made an unwanted pass at a former Olympic rower and potential Conservative election candidate.

"Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer about why Chris Pincher was given this role in the first place and how he can remain a Conservative MP," Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said.

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