Four senior aides to Boris Johnson have resigned from Downing Street within hours of each other amid growing pressure on the prime minister.
Director of Communications Jack Doyle confirmed his exit shortly after the departure of policy head Munira Mirza.
No 10 Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfield and senior civil servant Martin Reynolds also quit their jobs on Thursday night.
The top aides’ resignations come as Mr. Johnson faces increasing questions over his leadership from within his party.
Mr. Doyle told staff that “recent weeks have taken a terrible toll on my family life”, but that he had always intended to leave after two years.
However, Ms. Mirza left over the PM’s false claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile when he was director of public prosecutions.
The BBC is aware of 17 Tory MPs who have submitted letters of no confidence in the prime minister, with a total of 54 needed to trigger a leadership contest.
Many have cited the PM’s participation in parties at No 10 during Covid lockdowns as their motivation to challenge Mr. Johnson.
But some have also pointed to his remark about Sir Keir, including senior backbencher and Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood.
On Monday, Mr. Johnson accused the Labour leader of spending “most of his time” as director of public prosecutions (DPP) “prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”, despite having no evidence to back up the claim.
Disc jockey and TV personality Savile was revealed to be a serial sexual abuser after his death in 2011, having attacked hundreds of women and children at various locations including hospitals, schools, and the BBC.
By Thursday, Mr. Johnson appeared to have backed down, telling reporters he had not been talking about Sir Keir’s “personal record” when he was DPP, adding: “I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions.”
But in her resignation letter, published by The Spectator, Ms. Mirza said the PM should have apologized for the misleading remarks.
She wrote: “You are a better man than many of your detractors will ever understand, which is why it is so desperately sad that you let yourself down by making a scurrilous accusation against the leader of the opposition.”
Asked what he thought of his boss’s comments, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it, and I am glad that the prime minister clarified what he meant.”
And asked if Mr. Johnson should apologize, he said: “That’s for the prime minister to decide.”
Speaking to Channel 5 News after Ms. Mirza quit – but before Mr. Doyle’s resignation was made public – the prime minister said he was “sorry to lose Munira”, who had worked with him since he became Mayor of London in 2008.
He said she had “done an outstanding job” and had been “instrumental in delivering all sorts of fantastic policies”.
But asked about her conclusion that his remarks about Sir Keir had been “inappropriate and partisan”, Mr. Johnson replied: “Well I don’t agree with that.”
He said: “No-one is commenting, least of all me, about the personal involvement of the leader of the opposition in the handling of that case.
“All that I’ve said is that the leader of the opposition apologized for the CPS’s handling of that issue during his tenure and that’s all frankly that needs to be said on that matter.”