LONDON — After suffering a humiliating series of Brexit defeats in Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was dealt a new blow Thursday morning by an unlikely source: his little brother.
Jo Johnson announced he was quitting the government and standing down as a member of Parliament, becoming the latest casualty in the war over whether and how the U.K. leaves the European Union.
“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest,” Johnson, who was a minister in his brother Boris’ Cabinet, said on Twitter. “It’s an unresolvable tension and time for others to take on my roles as MP and minister.”
The prime minister’s plans to take the U.K. out of the European “do or die” on Oct. 31 were dealt two significant blows Wednesday as lawmakers passed a bill forcing him to request another extension and then blocked his attempt to call a snap election.
The Johnson family itself is notoriously split over Brexit, with sister Rachel having represented different parties opposed to Brexit, and his father Stanley being a committed europhile and former European Commission official.
The backlash against the Boris Johnson’s hardline approach to the rebels — including Winston Churchill’s grandson and former finance minister Philip Hammond — has led to growing discontent within the ranks of his party.
Boris Johnson had hoped to rally fellow Conservatives around his plans to leave the bloc at the end of October with or without a divorce deal. But the week’s events in Parliament have left him battling to restore his authority.
And Jo Johnson stepping down will only make matters worse for the prime minister, said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London university.
“Obviously it feeds into a narrative that is around about the government being untrustworthy because it can be spun that even his own brother doesn’t trust him,” he said. “That wording — family loyalty versus the national interest — that seems to be saying that his brother isn’t acting in the national interest. That’s quite a big deal.”
The prime minister continued his push for a new election Thursday to solve the country’s latest Brexit impasse, accusing opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of cowardice for opposing the plan.
Corbyn’s Labour Party and other opposition lawmakers look set to oppose any election until Wednesday’s bill to try and block what many fear would be a damaging “no deal” Brexit becomes law.
Jo Johnson, who voted in the June 2016 referendum to stay in the EU, also quit former Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over her handling of Brexit.
He has previously backed the idea of a second referendum on the issue. He was brought back into government as an education minister when his older brother took power in July after May stood down.
The resignation of Jo Johnson, a former Financial Times journalist and a much less flamboyant character than his brother, comes just days after the prime minister expelled 21 lawmakers from his own ruling Conservative Party after they voted against his Brexit plans.