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British PM Boris Johnson's government is in turmoil as 2 Cabinet ministers resign

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For Prime Minister Boris Johnson, known as Britain's Teflon politician, the mounting scandals are starting to stick. Today two senior cabinet members resigned from his government, and that came after Johnson was forced to apologize for promoting a lawmaker to a position of power despite an earlier allegation of sexual misconduct. For more, we turn to NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. He's been covering Johnson for years. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: To begin, if you could, walk us through the details of this latest scandal.

LANGFITT: Sure. So Johnson apologized today for promoting a guy named Chris Pincher to deputy chief whip - this was back in February - even though Johnson, it turns out, knew of a sexual harassment allegation which Pincher denied at the time. Now, the deputy whip job, you know, rounds up votes for party positions. And until today Johnson denied knowing anything about this, even though, as it turned out, we found out Johnson had actually been briefed about it three years ago.

Now, this gets worse, Juana. Two men accused Pincher of drunkenly groping them at an event last week. Pincher resigned as a whip, but - and Johnson apparently considered the case closed. Today Rishi Sunak - he's the U.K. treasury secretary, No. 2 in the government - he quit. Health Secretary Sajid Javid also resigned. And Javid said he could, quote, "no longer in good conscience continue serving in this government."

SUMMERS: Now, Johnson is someone known as a political survivor. So I am curious. What is different about this episode? Is there anything different that has led to these resignations?

LANGFITT: No. Juana, the fact of the matter is it's not different. And probably for Boris Johnson, that's the problem. This all comes down to, I think, from the perspective of many people here in the United Kingdom, Johnson's credibility and the way people see his values. There was an earlier scandal, which we've covered, called partygate. This was where Johnson claimed his government had followed all the country's COVID rules which the government had set. Turned out, in fact, number 10 Downing Street and staff were having a lot of parties, including ones that Johnson actually attended.

People here were really furious about that because most people here during the pandemic, Juana - they followed the rules. They stayed indoors. They didn't go even see dying loved ones. And I think people here see this case - the latest case as well as the earlier one - as kind of a pattern over Johnson's career of not being really honest about things that mattered like a pandemic and, in this case, sexual misconduct.

SUMMERS: You've mentioned Johnson's credibility, his values. I have to ask. Is his departure now seen as inevitable?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, he's already moving to fill these cabinet positions. But most people here, analysts and ordinary people, think he can't survive this. Conservatives, his party, basically chose him because they see him as a winner. He got Brexit through parliament. He led the party to an 80-seat landslide in 2019. But last month, Juana, the party lost two special elections, and most people here don't think he can deliver at the ballot box the way he used to. And he did win a no-confidence vote last month. He actually got through it. It didn't go that well for him. So technically, under the rules, he can't be challenged again for 11 months. But these are party rules. So they could be changed.

SUMMERS: In the 30 or so seconds we have left, if he does indeed leave, is there a consensus choice in the Conservative Party to replace him?

LANGFITT: Not really. And that's why this could be a longer goodbye than you might expect. Rishi Sunak, who I mentioned - he could run. He's had a couple much more minor brushes with scandal this year. Javid, the health secretary - he's also a potential contender. And then there's Jeremy Hunt. He's a former health secretary. He lost to Johnson in the party leadership contest in 2019. He could run as well.

SUMMERS: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt is just outside London. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Juana. 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.