LONDON — The morning after Britain’s prime minister suffered a potentially lethal political blow when two of his most senior ministers quit in an apparently coordinated rebellion against his scandal-tainted leadership, the question on Wednesday was: What next for Boris Johnson?
The two ministers — the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the health secretary, Sajid Javid — submitted their resignations after Mr. Johnson apologized for the latest scandal to engulf his government, one that involves accusations of sexual misconduct and excessive drinking by a Conservative Party lawmaker.
The sudden departures opened another fissure in Mr. Johnson’s government at a time when he is already battling a mutiny among lawmakers in his party, who are angry after months of embarrassing reports of social gatherings at Downing Street that violated the government’s own coronavirus lockdown rules.
Mr. Johnson moved quickly to announce replacements for Mr. Sunak and Mr. Javid, signaling that he planned to try to steady the government and battle for his job. But by all accounts the prime minister was in greater political peril than at any other time in his tumultuous three-year tenure in Downing Street.
Analysts and some senior Conservative lawmakers said the impact of the resignations could shatter whatever support Mr. Johnson had left in the party, and in the hours that followed, Alex Chalk, the solicitor general, and several holders of junior government posts also quit.
Even analysts who have been reluctant to write the prime minister’s political obituary said he faced a forbidding path to avoid being toppled.
“I can’t see a way he gets through this — it really does look like the end of the road this time,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “Javid and Sunak going together punches a far bigger hole in the cabinet than would have been the case had it just been one or the other.”
Mr. Johnson, a freewheeling journalist turned politician, has seemed to defy the laws of political gravity, surviving multiple investigations, a criminal fine by the police, and a no-confidence vote among lawmakers in his Conservative Party only last month — all related to the parties held in Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns.
Still, it was the more recent outcry over Mr. Johnson’s promotion of a Conservative lawmaker, Chris Pincher, that appeared to tip Mr. Sunak and Mr. Javid. Last week, Mr. Pincher resigned as the party’s deputy chief whip after admitting having been drunk at a private members’ club in London where, it was alleged, he groped two men. He was suspended from the party while the accusations were being investigated, but he has not resigned as a member of Parliament.
On Tuesday, Downing Street admitted that Mr. Johnson had been told about previous accusations against Mr. Pincher in 2019 — something Mr. Johnson’s office initially denied. In what has become a familiar ritual in British politics, the prime minister delivered an apology on the BBC for elevating Mr. Pincher.
Because Mr. Johnson survived the confidence vote, he cannot face another one for a year unless the party’s rules are changed. That means that cabinet resignations could be the only effective method of pressuring him to resign. High-profile resignations crippled some of Mr. Johnson’s predecessors, including Margaret Thatcher.
Part of Mr. Johnson’s strength had been the unified support of his cabinet, despite an unrelenting tide of negative headlines.
Hours after the resignations of Mr. Sunak and Mr. Javid, Mr. Johnson named Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary who was better known for his energetic rollout of coronavirus vaccines, as chancellor of Exchequer, and Steve Barclay, his Downing Street chief of staff, as health secretary.
But the on-the-fly reshuffling raises its own problems. Mr. Barclay had only been recruited in February to clean up Downing Street after the parties scandal. Mr. Johnson also has yet to replace Oliver Dowden, a Conservative Party chairman who resigned after two damaging Parliamentary election defeats last month.
Those losses crystallized fears among many Conservatives that Mr. Johnson had lost his touch as a champion vote-getter.