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U.K. prime minister and monarchy each face separate scandals


This week was an especially bad one for two British institutions, the Prime Minister's Office and the monarchy. Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, had to give up his royal duties, military titles and charities as he prepares for a possible civil trial here in the U.S. related to allegations he sexually assaulted a young woman. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office was forced to apologize for two staff parties which were forbidden because of a pandemic and held the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, the queen's husband, where the nation watched the monarch sitting alone to mourn to observe those same rules. For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in Canterbury in the southeast of England. Frank, thank you so much for joining us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: First, could you just remind us how these two events played out this week?

LANGFITT: Yeah. The prince basically had to give up any official role with the royal family. And this was because he had a motion to dismiss this civil suit against him, but it failed. And this could end up in a civil trial, which could be devastating, in New York. Now, the plaintiff, Virginia Giuffre, she said she had sex with the prince when she was 17. She was trafficked by the prince's friend, Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender. The prince denies doing anything wrong. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he had to apologize for these parties, which he reportedly didn't attend. But the timing, as you point out, was really bad. It when the country was in mourning. And newspapers contrasted the fact that there were some people apparently who brought wine into one of the parties with a suitcase with this photo that you mentioned of the Queen.

MARTIN: What has the reaction been in the U.K.? How are people reacting to these two things?

LANGFITT: You know, Michel, I think anger and disgust. There's a public sense here, I think, also in the case of Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson that they think the rules don't apply to them. Marina Hyde is a columnist with Britain's Guardian newspaper, and she put it like this in a recent column. She said, the one thing that Downing Street staff don't seem to have been overburdened by after these many, many parties is a sense of shame.

MARTIN: Well, you know, a lack of a sense of shame, you know, the idea that the rules don't apply to them, that the rules are, you know, for the little people, that has to be there has to sound familiar to some here in the United States.


MARTIN: ...Because this is what people are saying about some of the political leadership here in the United States, especially, you have to say, maybe the prior administration, but as sort of a general concern about people in political leadership, you know.

LANGFITT: Yeah. It feels - it actually feels very familiar to me. I mean, you and I are of an age when we remember when politicians, if you go back 30, 40 years, they made a big mistake, they might - they would, you know, apologize, and they would resign. One of the things people point out with Prince Andrew is his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein was known for more than a decade, but he only gives up his duties when he's threatened with a trial. And with Boris Johnson, you know, he's had a lot of scandals. And he, you know, he has been in the House of Commons saying, no, there were no violations of COVID rules with these parties. But more and more we're seeing that there probably were. And with members of - with people not being able to say good bye to their family members dying of COVID, this really has people angry.

MARTIN: Does this threaten Johnson's job?

LANGFITT: I think it does. It's politically the most dangerous moment of his two years as prime minister. Opposition parties here are calling for him to step down. Some, not that many, are publicly in his own party saying, yeah, he should go. But the numbers now are still way too low to topple him. The next thing is there's going to be a formal investigation. Results will come out on these parties. And I think that will be the next thing to watch to see how damaging that is to him.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Frank Langfitt in the U.K. Frank, thank you, as always.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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