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Boris Johnson announces he'll resign as Britain's Conservative Party leader

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Britain's embattled prime minister, Boris Johnson, has announced his resignation. Johnson has dominated British politics in recent years, and his departure comes after a series of scandals. But Johnson said he will not step down immediately but stay on until the Conservative Party chooses a new leader. NPR's Frank Langfitt is following the events from London and joins me now. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So, Frank, as recently as last night, Johnson was vowing to stay and lead the party into another election. And now he says he's going to go. What seems to have forced his hand, and what did he have to say?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I mean, Leila, his government was dissolving in front of his eyes. I mean, yesterday they were happening - people were resigning from his government, sometimes three or four people in an hour. And so this all came after a number of scandals in which, frankly, he didn't tell the truth, and he had lost the support of the public. Most of them, polls show, found him untrustworthy, as did the lawmakers in his own party. And so speaking in front of No. 10 Downing Street this morning, this is how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I know that there will be many people who are relieved and perhaps quite a few who will also be disappointed. And I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them's the breaks.

FADEL: Them's the breaks. So. Frank. Johnson is appointing a new Cabinet and could remain in office through at least the summer. How's that going over?

LANGFITT: Poorly, as you would imagine. Many want him out now. He's not popular much anywhere in this country. And in the past, prime ministers have stepped down and had people who were trusted by the party to serve as caretakers. Now, Keir Starmer, he's the leader of the opposition Labour Party, he says if Johnson tries to cling to power, Starmer would move for a vote of no confidence in hopes of triggering a general election. But honestly, it's not certain that Labour would win such an election, even though they are ahead in the polls. And frankly, Johnson has - he's so polarizing that he's actually been very good for the Labour Party. And that's one of the reasons that they've been leading in the polls recently.

FADEL: Now, Johnson's fall was not over political differences and not over policy, but nearly all accounts, the prime minister did himself in with self-inflicted wounds. Was he reflective or contrite in his speech at all?

LANGFITT: Not that I heard. I mean, the bottom line is Johnson did make a series of big mistakes. This is what I really recall - allowing parties during COVID lockdown that violated his own government's rules, and then he didn't tell the truth about it. He appointed a lawmaker who was accused of sexual harassment to a position of power and then pretended that he didn't know. And many people here feel he was done in, as they put it, by his own lies. He also argued with - you know, said that he argued with other party leaders to stay on and work on the big issues confronting the U.K. Then during the speech, Leila, he seemed to blame them for what he says is what he called a herd mentality of lawmakers in his own Conservative Party for having to leave. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I regret not to have been successful in those arguments. And, of course, it's painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself. The herd instinct is powerful. When the herd moves, it moves.

FADEL: Doesn't sound like a man taking accountability there. Where does the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom go from here?

LANGFITT: Well, Johnson, you know, as you were saying, he leaves a big political vacuum here. And we're expecting quite a crowded field to try to replace him. Some people have already thrown their hat in the ring. What they're going to try to do, the Conservative Party, is winnow that field as quickly as possible because Parliament is going to head off for summer break later this month. But it could take a couple of months to work this out. It'll be very interesting to see who ends up back in No. 10 after this is all over.

FADEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from London. Thank you, Frank.

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

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.