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2 senior ministers quit British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Despite a slew of resignations from his government, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refuses to step down over his most recent scandal. Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for promoting a lawmaker he knew had been accused of sexual misconduct. Today, he sparred with opponents as well as members of his own party in the House of Commons. For the latest, we've got NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Frank, Boris Johnson has faced a lot of scandal, so let's quickly recap what this one was about.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Sure. This is about a lawmaker named Chris Pincher, who was promoted in February to be the deputy whip who organizes the votes in the House of Commons, one of the organizers. He has a history of sexual harassment allegations. Johnson says he was not aware of an early complaint back in 2019, so he appointed him to the job. It turned out that wasn't true, that Johnson indeed did know about it. So once again, Boris Johnson appears to have been caught in a lie, which has happened, frankly, a lot in his career. Now, the scandal before this one was Johnson had said that everybody in his staff had followed COVID rules, when, in fact, his staff was partying at No. 10 Downing Street. He even attended some of the events. So he hasn't even recovered from that scandal when this one came along.

MARTINEZ: What did Boris Johnson have to say for himself today?

LANGFITT: Yeah, they have a thing here on Wednesdays called Prime Minister's Questions, where people ask questions of Johnson. And he took responsibility, said that when it became clear this was a real problem, he took care and fired this guy, Chris Pincher, essentially from his job. But he also tried to deflect to other topics. He talked about the need to cut taxes, arm the Ukrainians, and he remained defiant. And this is what he said today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: It's exactly when times are tough and when the country faces pressures on the economy and when we had the biggest war in Europe for 80 years, Mr. Speaker - that is exactly the moment that you'd expect the government to continue with its work, not to walk away, Mr. Speaker, and to get on with our job and to focus on the things that matter to the people of this country.

MARTINEZ: So that sounded like a rowdy room, Frank.

LANGFITT: It was.

MARTINEZ: What kind of response did he get?

LANGFITT: Absolutely withering, A. His critics say it was long overdue for him to leave, that he couldn't be trusted. This is Ian Blackford. He leads the opposition Scottish National Party in the House of Commons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IAN BLACKFORD: The Prime Minister is desperately clinging on to his own fantasy, but the public can't afford to put up with this farce of a government a minute longer. It's always about him. How many more ministers need to quit before he finally picks up his pen and writes his own resignation letter?

MARTINEZ: All right. So, Frank, where does this go from here?

LANGFITT: Well, Boris Johnson survived a vote of no confidence last month from his own party, but 148 lawmakers voted against him, which was a lot. It was a big blow. Normally, under the party rules, he should have 11 months without a challenge. But the Conservative Party - there's a committee called the 1922 Committee, which is meeting later today. They make the rules. They could move to change the rules so that they could try to remove him again. So we're going to watch to see how that plays out this afternoon. There could be more resignations. I think we will be watching this very closely, hour by hour, to see how it unfolds and whether Johnson can continue to cling to power.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: Hey, good to talk, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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